Pain, swelling, warmth, and nail changes are all common symptoms of psoriatic arthritis (PsA) in the hands. Along with medical treatment, try these tips to help you cope with PsA-related hand pain.

One of the first areas of your body where you might notice PsA is in your hands. The condition can affect any of the 27 joints in your hand, causing a lot of pain. Because so many routine tasks require using your hands, from typing on your keyboard to unlocking your front door, hand pain due to PsA can significantly interfere with your daily life.

Biologics and other disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) act on your immune system to slow the progression of PsA. These drugs should slow or stop the joint damage that causes hand pain, helping manage symptoms like hand pain and swelling.

While you follow the treatment plan a doctor has prescribed, the tips in this article may also help you manage PsA hand pain.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) are available over the counter. A doctor can also prescribe stronger versions.

These pain relievers bring down swelling and relieve pain all over your body, including in your hands.

Whenever your fingers or wrists get sore, give them a rest. Stop what you’re doing for a few minutes to give them time to recover. You might even do gentle hand exercises to ease any built-up stiffness.

Cold helps bring down inflammation and swelling. It also has a numbing effect on tender areas of your hand.

Hold a cold compress or ice pack to the affected areas for 10 minutes at a time, several times a day. Wrap the ice in a towel to avoid damaging your skin.

Alternatively, you can try holding a warm compress or heating pad to the affected hand. Warmth won’t bring down swelling, but it is an effective pain reliever.

A gentle hand massage can do wonders for stiff, sore hand joints. You may be able to see a professional massage therapist or give your own hands a rub a few times a day.

The Arthritis Foundation recommends a technique called milking. To try it, place your thumb on your wrist and your index finger underneath your hand. Then, slide your fingers up each finger using moderate pressure as if you were milking a cow.

Splints are wearable devices made from plastic. They can support and stabilize hands that are experiencing pain.

Wearing a splint can relieve swelling and stiffness and reduce pain in your hand and wrist. An occupational therapist or orthotist can provide a custom fitting for a splint.

Exercise is important for your entire body, including your hands. Regularly moving your hands helps prevent stiffness and improves your range of motion.

Try one easy exercise by doing the following:

  1. Make a fist.
  2. Hold it for 2–3 seconds.
  3. Straighten your hand.

You can also try forming your hand into a “C” or “O” shape and holding the shape for a few seconds. You can do 10 reps and repeat the exercise throughout the day.

Psoriasis often affects the nails, leaving them pitted, cracked, and discolored. For that reason, it’s important to be very careful when you care for your nails or get a manicure. For one thing, pressing too hard on sore hand joints can lead to more pain.

It’s best to keep your nails trimmed, but avoid cutting them too short or pushing down on your cuticles. You could damage the delicate tissue around your nails and possibly cause an infection.

Soaking your hands in warm water with some Epsom salts helps relieve swelling and pain. Just don’t keep them underwater for too long. Spending too much time submerged in water can dry out your skin and make your psoriasis flare up.

Even a minor injury can set off a PsA flare. Avoid this by wearing gloves whenever you do any activity that might damage your hands, like working with tools or gardening.

You can buy gloves made specifically for people with arthritis online. They offer more support than regular gloves and can protect your hands, relieving swelling and pain.

Corticosteroid injections bring down swelling in inflamed joints. Sometimes, steroids are combined with a local anesthetic for more effective pain relief.

Your doctor can give you a shot in each of the affected joints in your hand during flares. The pain relief from these shots sometimes lasts several months.

If you have symptoms of psoriatic arthritis, like joint pain, swelling, and stiffness in your hands or elsewhere in your body, see a rheumatologist for a diagnosis. If these symptoms don’t improve once you’ve started on medication, go back to your doctor to reevaluate your treatment plan.

Below are answers to common questions about PsA.

What are the early signs of psoriatic arthritis?

The early signs of PsA may include joint pain, swelling, stiffness, swelling in the digits, pitting in the nails, fatigue, and eye inflammation.

What does psoriatic arthritis in the hands feel like?

Depending on how PsA affects your hands, you may experience pain, swelling, and joint stiffness in the hand or the fingers. You may also experience pitting in the nails.

Learn more about how PsA affects the hands and feet.

What is the main cause of psoriatic arthritis?

PsA is an autoimmune disease. This means the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues, causing inflammation and damage. The exact cause is unclear, but experts believe that both genetics and environment can play a role.

Learn more about the causes of psoriatic arthritis.

What is a person’s life expectancy with psoriatic arthritis?

PsA is a chronic condition that treatment can manage but not cure. If you have PsA, you have a higher chance of developing other health problems affecting your heart and lungs or involving cancer or infection.

That said, PsA isn’t life threatening, though it can be disabling depending on the severity of your symptoms. Because of this, there is also a higher risk of suicide among people with PsA.

Help is out there

If you or someone you know is in crisis and considering suicide or self-harm, please seek support:

If you’re calling on behalf of someone else, stay with them until help arrives. You may remove weapons or substances that can cause harm if you can do so safely.

If you are not in the same household, stay on the phone with them until help arrives.

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Learn about the outlook and quality of life with PsA.

While continuing to take your PsA medication, try these home care tips to ease hand pain. If these recommendations don’t help, contact a rheumatologist and ask about other treatment options.