There are many forms of arthritis. Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and others which all cause joint pain. Arthritis pain in your hands is extremely uncomfortable and can prevent you from doing simple daily activities, like buttoning your shirt or opening the toothpaste cap. Hand exercises can help relieve arthritis pain and keep your fingers moving. This article will talk about why hand exercises for arthritis are beneficial. It will also give you several range-of-motion exercises that you can do at home. We have given these exercises fun names to help you remember them.

8 Hand Exercises for Arthritis

  • Palms Up, Palms Down
  • Wipe the Table
  • Yoga Hands
  • Bend the Wrist
  • Four Finger Salute
  • Fingertip Touch
  • Roll the Carpet
  • Swinging Door

How Hand Exercises Help Relieve Arthritis Pain

Regardless of what form of arthritis you have, the most common symptoms are joint pain and stiffness. If you have arthritis in your hands, you may experience this pain and stiffness daily. The loss of cartilage and/or inflammation of your joints make your hand and finger muscles, tendons, and ligaments stiff and painful. If you do nothing, this process will continue to become more severe until your muscles and tendons lose their flexibility. This will cause your joints to lose range of motion, limiting your hand function.

One way to combat the pain and stiffness that arthritis causes is to complete stretching exercises every day. These stretches, also called range-of-motion exercises, help to keep the muscles, tendons, and ligaments of your hands at their normal length so that your wrists, hands, and finger joints will continue to move normally. Range-of-motion exercises also help to keep the fluid moving through your joints. This lubricates the surfaces of the joint structures and makes sure that everything moves without that rubbing or grinding feeling.

Certain exercises have the same effect on your tendons, preventing them from sticking or catching on other tendons. When completed daily, range-of-motion exercises help to control pain and stiffness and preserve hand movement.

General Guidelines for Completing Arthritis Hand Exercises

There are a few simple rules that you should follow when completing range-of-motion exercises for arthritis. Following these guidelines will prevent you from causing more problems as you exercise.

Let pain be your guide. The old saying “no pain, no gain” does not apply here. If an exercise hurts a little bit, that’s okay, but if it hurts a lot, you are overdoing it. Back off on how much you move your joint. If the exercise is very painful even when you move a little, then stop that exercise.

Don’t over-do it. You may feel a little sore after doing hand exercises for arthritis, especially after the first few times. This feeling should go away within 2 hours of completing exercises. If it doesn’t, you did too much. Try reducing the number of repetitions that you do, then gradually increasing those repetitions as you get used to exercising.

Complete exercises slowly and gently. Don’t push on your joints to get them to move farther. This can actually damage your joints and your tendons, especially if they are actively inflamed. Your movement will increase gradually, so have patience.

If exercises seem to cause more pain than pain relief, then you might need more help. Stop these stretches and contact your doctor. He or she may recommend physical or occupational therapy to help you with your hand function. It is better to play it safe and seek professional help if the pain is too extreme.

Pain-Relieving Hand Exercises for Arthritis

Try this hand exercise program for help relieving joint pain and stiffness in your wrists, hands, and fingers. Try to do these exercises every day to keep your hands moving.

1. Palms Up, Palms Down

This exercise will stretch the long muscles and tendons that attach to your wrists. Start with your elbows by your side. Bend your elbows until they are at a 90-degree angle and your hands are positioned with your thumbs on top (like you are getting ready to shake hands with someone). From this position, turn your hands until both palms are facing up. Hold this position for a slow count of 5. Then turn your hands in the opposite direction until your palms are facing down. Again, hold for a slow count of 5. Repeat this exercise 5 to 10 times for help with wrist pain.

2. Wipe the Table

The goal of this exercise is to stretch the long and short tendons and ligaments that attach at the sides of your wrists. Sit at a table or desk, or stand at a waist-high countertop. Place your hands and forearms on the top of the table with your palms down. Without moving your forearms, bend your wrists toward your thumbs so that your hands slide toward each other. Hold for a slow count of 5. Then bend your wrists in the opposite direction so that your hands slide away from each other. Hold for a slow count of 5. Repeat 5 to 10 times.

3. Yoga Hands

This exercise helps to stretch the tendons and ligaments that bend your wrists and fingers. It also helps with carpal tunnel syndrome, relieving swelling,  pressure, and improving grip strength. With your elbows bent, place the palms of both hands together with the tips of your fingers just touching your chin. Keeping your palms together, gently slide your hands toward your chest until you feel a stretch in both wrists. Hold for a slow count of five. Slide your hands back to your chin. Repeat 5 to 10 times. If this is uncomfortable, here’s an alternate way to do this stretch: start with your elbows relaxed and your palms together in front of you, fingers pointing forward. Keeping your palms together, gently move your hands toward your stomach until you feel a stretch in both wrists. Hold for a slow count of 5, then move your hands away from your stomach.

4. Bend the Wrist

Use this exercise to stretch the tendons and ligaments that straighten your wrists and fingers. Start with one elbow bent and your palm facing down. Gently bend your wrist down until your fingers are pointing toward the floor and you feel a stretch on the back of your wrist. Place your other hand on the back of the first hand and hold it in position for a slow count of 5. If you do not feel a stretch on the back of your wrist you can gently push your hand down until you do. Be careful not to push too hard. After counting to 5, straighten your wrist. Repeat 5 to 10 times on each wrist.

5. Four Finger Salute

This exercise will stretch the tendons and ligaments in your thumb, improving mobility. Start with your elbows bent at your sides and your hands positioned with fingers straight and thumbs on top. Stretch both thumbs away from your hand until they are pointing toward the ceiling. Then move your thumbs in a circular motion across your palms until they are touching just below the little fingers. If you can’t move your thumbs this far, move them as far as you can. Once you touch, slowly reverse the motion until your thumbs point to the ceiling again. Perform this motion slowly to get the best stretch. Repeat 5 to 10 times.

6. Fingertip Touch

Your ability to pinch and manipulate small objects should improve when you do this exercise regularly. Start with your elbows bent at your sides and your hands positioned with fingers straight and thumbs on top. Slowly move your thumbs and index fingers until the tips touch, then move them back to starting position. Repeat 5 to 10 times with each finger.

7. Roll the Carpet

This exercise helps keep the tendons that move your fingers lubricated, preventing them from rubbing or sticking on other structures as they move. Your range of motion in the small joints of your fingers should also improve with this exercise. Start with your elbows bent at your sides and your hands positioned with fingers straight and thumbs on top. Starting with your fingertips, slowly bend the joints of your fingers and curl your fingers in toward your palm until they are fisted, or “rolled” like a carpet. Your thumbs should stay relaxed. Once you have curled your fingers into your palm, slowly reverse the motion to straighten your fingers, or “unroll” the carpet, until your fingers are in starting position. Repeat 5 to 10 times.

8. Swinging Door

Just like Roll the Carpet, this exercise keeps the tendons that move your fingers lubricated and moving smoothly. Start with your elbows bent at your sides and your hands positioned with fingers straight and thumbs on top. Slowly bend your knuckles as far as they will go, then bend the middle joints of your fingers until your fingertips touch your palm. Do not curl your fingers in, but “swing” them toward your palm like a swinging door. Your thumbs should stay relaxed. Once your fingertips touch your palm, reverse the motion until your fingers are straight. Repeat 5 to 10 times.

Methods That May Help Relieve Arthritis Pain as you Exercise

Because of the way arthritis affects the body, you may benefit from additional pain-relief methods as you exercise. Your joints may flare-up or stiffen and you might be tempted to skip exercises on those days. However, skipping exercises can result in your joints becoming more painful. A better alternative is to use other pain relief methods in addition to exercise. Here are a few ideas:

Over the counter anti-inflammatory medication. Pain relief medication such as ibuprofen is designed to reduce inflammation in the body, relieving arthritis pain. If you have swollen joints, you may want to take some anti-inflammatory medication about a half hour before you exercise. Be sure to consult your doctor before taking any over the counter medication.

Heat or cold. If your joints are very stiff and sore, try applying a hot pack or soaking your hands in warm water before you exercise. You can even do hand exercises in warm water if it helps. If your joints are red, warm and swollen, apply a cold pack before exercising. This can help reduce the swelling and make the movement more comfortable.

Use a topical pain relief treatment like Arthritis Wonder. This medication contains Wogonin, a powerful anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving compound that is FDA approved. Arthritis Wonder was developed by Dr. David Kooyman, a microbiologist who also has arthritis and has made the relief of arthritis symptoms his life’s work. Arthritis Wonder is available on this website.

Arthritis in your hands can be uncomfortable, painful, and can limit your activities. By completing range-of-motion exercises every day, you can control pain and stiffness, making movement easier and preserving your ability to complete daily activities. Follow these exercises and recommendations every day to relieve arthritis pain in your hands.