5 Natural Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatments That Work
This article goes over 5 natural and effective rheumatoid arthritis treatments that can help to reduce hand pain. These treatments are just as effective for those seeking osteoarthritis treatments as well.
There is already plenty of information available online on various drug therapies for rheumatoid arthritis, so we are not going to discuss drugs in this article. Our focus is to provide alternative treatments to drug therapies. We hope you find this information helpful in reducing your hand pain. Please leave us a comment on what worked and what didn't work for you.
The Difference Between Rheumatoid Arthritis vs Osteoarthritis
Many people don't understand the differences between regular arthritis (ie osteo-arthritis) and rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune, inflammatory disease. Osteoarthritis (regular arthritis) is a result of the wear and tear in your joints.
Rheumatoid arthritis can affect any joint in the body, however, according to the CDC, the disease is most prevalent in the hands, wrists, and knees. In this article, we're going to talk about treatments for rheumatoid arthritis in our hands, though the treatments themselves can certainly have a positive impact on your RA pain in other parts of your body.
TREATMENT 1: Hand Exercises
This first treatment, doing rheumatoid arthritis exercises, should be obvious, but is one that many people simply don't do, often because they think it's too hard to start.
Research has shown that doing rheumatoid arthritis exercises, like the 3 exercises below, can be effective in reducing pain, joint stiffness, and swelling, all while improving muscle and joint flexibility.
- Take it slow when you first get started. Take nice deep breaths. Possibly find a calm environment.
- Warm up your hands before you do the exercises! The physical heat can increase the elasticity of the tendons in your hands and get more blood flowing, which speeds up recovery.
- And remember, consistency is key! Try to do the exercises for 5-15 minutes every day. Research has shown that after about 6 weeks of daily hand exercises, your hands may start to feel significantly better. So keep it up!
- Consider getting into the routine of doing these exercises first thing in the morning, while your having your coffee, or while watching your TV.
- Try a free hand yoga class. These classes meet twice a week for 20 minutes and go over 4-6 hand exercises in a fun and safe environment. Classes are always free. Sign up for Hand Yoga
1. Power Fist
For the first rheumatoid arthritis exercise, we’re going to tackle Power Fist, which is a “fist and release” exercise! It’s as simple as it sounds. This quick exercise doesn’t require any equipment and solely focuses on all of your finger’s joints.
Watch: Power Fist Exercise
Mechanics of Power Fist
- Begin by slowly forming a tight fist (as tightly as you can) and hold the position for at least 5 seconds (or for a deep breath in and out).
- Gently release the fist, and open your hand as much as possible. You should extend your fingers and thumb outwards, and if possible, even allow your fingers to bend backwards slightly. This will really open up your hand, and give your flexor tendons a great stretch.
We recommend completing at least 5 reps a day. If this is easy, try doing the 5 reps at 3 different times of the day! You may find that your hands feel amazing!
BONUS: Want to really increase your hand strength? Try using a grip strength kit to add resistance to the exercise. Didi you know that Grip strength has been shown to be linked to all sorts of amazing health benefits, from increased longevity to lower blood pressure to better cardiovascular health!
2. Sticky Fingers
The next RA exercise focuses on stretching our joints of not only each finger, but also the thumb joints, since rheumatoid arthritis in our hands often attacks the thumb as well. This exercise also helps improve hand coordination, and increase finger strength. You’ll see why Sticky Fingers is one of the best rheumatoid arthritis exercises for your sore hands!
Watch: Sticky Fingers Exercise
Mechanics of Sticky Fingers
- Start with an open hand (all fingers spread, thumb down)
- Now press your index finger against your thumb, while keeping your other fingers are far back as possible (you'll feel the stretch when you do this!). Hold for 3-5 seconds (or deep breath in and out).
- Open hand wide for a nice stretch.
- Repeat for each finger (index, middle, ring, and pinky), and remember to open hand fully in between each finger.
3. Finger lifts
Another great type of rheumatoid arthritis exercises are the finger lifts. Finger Lifts are great for stretching the MCP (metacarpal phalangeal) joints. Stretching is a process that helps to rebuild joint strength in the safest way possible.
Watch: Finger Lift Exercise
Mechanics of Finger Lift
- Lay hand on flat surface with fingers spread out, and palm facing down.
- Slowly lift up each finger (on both hands, if you can) and hold it in the air for 3-5 seconds.
- Repeat this process for each finger, one finger at a time. Afterwards, relax your hand on the surface.
TREATMENT 2: Reduce Hand Strain; Use Hand Care Products
Hand strain is the tearing of fibers in your tendons and muscles. Many products are poorly designed and lead to unnecessary strain.
Hand care products are specially designed to make your hands feel better.
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TREATMENT 3: Heat Therapy
Heat therapy is another great method to treat rheumatoid arthritis pain. Using heat therapy can help reduce your RA hand pain and improve muscle relaxation, improve blood circulation, and increase muscle and joint healing.
Heat treatment is a form of physical therapy that can be done at home. Here are some options for this natural rheumatoid arthritis treatment:
Warm Bath. Soaking in warm bath water initiates muscle relaxation and promotes good circulation. The water alleviates the weight of your hand’s muscles, easing their tension. Once out of the bath, put on a pair of compression gloves to prolong the comfort from the heat and the improved circulation to your hand joints.
Paraffin Bath. During this treatment, you dip your hands into a pool of melted wax that maintains a safe enough temperature. Once the wax hardens, the physical therapist will wrap your hands in a sheet and blanket to keep them warm. The process takes about 20 minutes on average. At the end of the treatment, the wax is peeled off.
- Hand Warming Grippie. This simple device may look simple, but is highly effective. Put the Grippie in the microwave for 1-2 minutes, then squeeze liberally. This soothes and warms your hands, and can help improve your hand grip strength at the same time.
TREATMENT 4: Anti-Inflammatory Teas
Another natural rheumatoid arthritis treatment that is often overlooked is the drinking of anti-inflammatory teas. These teas each have an anti-inflammatory property that has the potential to decrease your inflammation, and subsequent pain. Some of these teas also have other benefits, like Green Tea, which is also an anti-oxidant.
Anti-Oxidant teas include green tea, turmeric tea, rose hips tea, ginger tea, nettle leaf tea, and others.
It is important to note that anti-inflammatory teas are effectively a type of drug, and therefore can interact with any medication that you are taking. For this reason, you should consult with your doctor before consuming anti-inflammatory teas.
A recent study in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science concluded that with regular exercise, non-invasive, sweeter remedies like green tea were shown to effectively reduce pain and inflammation for rheumatoid arthritis (RA). In fact, if you have RA, we’d strongly recommend that you substitute coffee or other drinks for anti-inflammatory teas so that you can benefit from the many positive health outcomes from anti-inflammatory teas.
TREATMENT 5: Give Yourself A Hand Massage
Who doesn’t love a relaxing massage? This soft hand massage uses simple and proven techniques to reduce inflammation and pain in your palms, thumb, and finger joints!
We recommend that you use a hand massage tool so that you don't strain your other hand (the hand that is giving the massage). And be sure to lubricate your hands so you don’t tear skin or massage yourself incorrectly. Being properly lubricated allows you to massage deep enough to break up sore fibrous tissues, knots, scar tissue, etc.
We recommend using a hand & thumb massage tool and organic extra virgin olive oil for the hand massage. Olive oil is full of vitamins A, D, E, K, and has been shown to have antioxidant properties, especially beneficial after sun exposure.
Here's an article on the many benefits of giving yourself a 15-minute daily hand massage, with links to research on how a daily hand massage can actually improve your hand health and reduce your hand pain.
WATCH: 15-Minute Hand Massage
Palm: To perform it correctly, gently massage your palm with your opposite thumb in short strokes. Then, massage your fingers beginning at the tips, applying a comfortable amount of pressure. Push down towards the palms. Try to incorporate these exercises into your daily routine!
Thumb: Rub the base of your thumb in gentle circular motions. As you become more comfortable, you can increase the amount of pressure applied.
Fingers: Rub and gently pull each finger, starting from the MCP joint (where finger meets palm), and squeeze and pull towards the tip of your finger. Be gentle as you go over joints. This becomes a type of finger joint traction, and can help ease finger tension and reduce inflammation.
Thumb Webbing: This is my favorite part of a hand massage. The thumb webbing holds tension from many parts of your body, which means that rubbing it can relieve pain and tension from many parts of your body, including headache pain, jaw pain, lower back pain, hand pain (of course), and even labor pains! The thumb webbing starts where the index finger and the thumb finger come together in a “V”. To rub this area, use your other thumb and index finger to squeeze your thumb webbing. You can focus on the center of the thumb webbing, or you can move closer to the thumb or closer to the index finger. This amazing technique will undoubtedly cause your other hand to get tired (and possibly even cramp), so we highly recommend using a hand massage tool, like the one mentioned above, which is ideal for properly rubbing the thumb webbing without straining your other hand.
Forearm: Don't forget to rub your forearm, as this is the powerhouse of your hands. Your large gripping muscles are located on your forearm, which is why your forearm will be sore after using your hands more than normal.
To rub your forearm, simply squeeze the forearms, and find the sore spots with your fingers and then massage the area. Refer to the video for more direction on how to rub this area.
TREATMENT 6: Anti-Rheumatic Drug Treatment
Although there isn’t a cure for rheumatoid arthritis, there are pharmaceutical treatments to help slow down its progression. Along with the exercises and other natural treatments listed above, you can manage your RA with a specific class of medications referred to as anti-rheumatic drugs, or DMARD.
Be sure to seek out a professional opinion from your doctor to see if these medications are suitable for your condition.
Change is Hard, but Totally Worth It
Let’s face it, change can be tough in any aspect of your life. However, when it comes to your physical well being, change is absolutely vital! Especially when you’re combating hand arthritis. Just follow some of these simple rheumatoid arthritis tips and rheumatoid arthritis exercises, and you may be amazed at how much better your hands feel.
About the author
Elisah Gelladuga is a Pediatric Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant working in Houston, Texas. Elisah is currently an Honors Student finishing her second degree in Professional Studies at Texas Woman’s University with hopes to move forward with a graduate degree in Occupational Therapy next year.
Elisah has previously worked as a social media director, contributing writer, and loves working with children to help them live optimal, independent lives.
Jamber is a hand care company, focused on helping everyone have happier & healthier hands. Jamber offers hand care products, and free hand care classes to help relieve hand pain and increase hand strength.
Alghadir, A., Gabr, S. A., & Al-Eisa, E. A. (2016). Green tea and exercise interventions as non drug remedies in geriatric patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Journal of Physical Therapy Science. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5088134/
Bell, A. (2020, July 30). 8 hand exercises for arthritis: Pictures and the necessary equipment. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/8-hand-exercises-for-arthritis.
Crow, C. (2021, April 9). Hand exercises for rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis Health. https://www.arthritis-health.com/types/rheumatoid/hand-exercises-rheumatoid-arthritis
Cross, K. FNP, MSN, Leonard J. (2018, March 18). Is olive oil a good moisturizer for your face? Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321246#benefits-of-olive-oil
Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs stop or slow the disease process in inflammatory forms of arthritis. Arthritis Foundation.