6 Things to Do When You Get Joint Pain in Your Fingers

Can you fix joint pain in your fingers at home? These simple home remedies can help you feel more comfortable and regain mobility.

A woman feeling her fingers due to joint pain

Do you know someone who has been complaining about joint pain in their fingers? Or does this situation apply to you? Discomfort arising from the joints of your fingers may stem from a myriad of underlying causes, but the pain is never a good sign as it signifies tissue damage.

According to an American College of Rheumatology study, hand pain is more prevalent in women. The most common cause of joint pain in fingers is rheumatoid arthritis, which affects five in 1,000 Malaysians.   

Can you recover from this condition? This article will help you identify the causes of finger joint pain and ways to relieve them

Identifying the Cause of Joint Pain in Fingers 

Blunt traumas such as finger sprains, such as accidentally jamming your fingers against a cabinet while trying to catch your falling phone, and finger strain from an activity like weightlifting can cause pain and usually stiffness of the finger joints. As long as injury to the soft connective tissues within the joints is not extensive, the pain usually subsides within days. Simply give your fingers some rest. 

However, if the injury is more severe, the damaged soft tissue will be inflamed and will be noticeable in the form of tenderness, swelling, and dull pain that differs from the sharp pain of bone injuries. 

In rare cases, finger joint pain may be caused by metastasised cancer cells, which are cancerous cells that have left their organ of origin and settled elsewhere in the body. Such possibilities are easily ruled out except in people with advanced-stage cancer. 

If the pain isn’t due to the abovementioned causes, it is likely caused by arthritis. Arthritis is inflammation of the joints and is often accompanied by pain, swelling, stiffness and reduction in range of motion. It is more common in women than in men.

Arthritic finger joint pains are characterised by: 

  • Morning pain and stiffness that can last longer than an hour after waking up 
  • A “burning” sensation following heavy use of fingers involved, usually felt within hours or a day 
  • A swollen finger joint, which is warm or tender when touched, and/or deformed. 

The TCM Take on Finger Joint Pain 

Physician Jolene Chong explains that Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) considers joint pain in fingers a combination of internal and external bodily factors. Internal bodily factors include a predisposition to arthritis, anaemia, a poor diet, ageing, lack of proper rest, as well as certain organ conditions.

In turn, these can lead to Cold-Dampness, Damp-Heat, circulatory insufficiencies, and Liver-Kidney-Essence Deficiency. Coupled with external factors, such as the invasion of Wind, Cold, Heat or Dampness, they cause obstruction to the proper flow of qi and blood in the finger’s meridian channels. Over time, the Stagnation of qi and blood will cause stubborn pain at specific finger joints. 

A qualified TCM practitioner can address the root of the condition. For example, Damp-Heat syndrome may be among the most prevalent factors in tropical countries such as Malaysia. Then, the TCM practitioner will customise herbal prescription and other treatment methods such as acupuncture, moxibustion and cupping. These TCM treatments will therefore emphasise the removal of Dampness, clearance of Heat, regulation of qi and pain relief. 

Ways to Relieve Joint Pain in Fingers 

Some people experience joint pain that worsens every time they move, whereas others experience persistent pain even after taking over-the-counter medication. Take a step back and observe what you can do at home to ease the discomfort with these tricks and DIY therapies. 

1. Give it a rest 

This is especially effective against joint pain that is aggravated with further usage of the fingers. If you find yourself often using certain fingers for repetitive work, try learning to use your other hand or other fingers to give your painful ones a rest. 

2. Tag it along

Buddy finger splint, finger straight with Side finger.
Buddy taping a finger helps provide alignment as well as support and protection.

If isolating a specific finger in pain to rest isn’t feasible, an alternative is to tape that finger to an adjacent healthy finger. This provides support for the finger in pain and reduces its exertion. Finger splints can also be worn to the same effect, though the movement of the fingers may be more restricted. 

3. Keep it warm 

Soaking fingers in a bowl of water on wooden table
Warm water therapy helps to reduce temperature and lessen the damage caused by inflammation.

The application of gentle heat is a proven method for joint pain relief, as it widens capillaries near the site of chronic inflammation in order to “flush out” the cytokines that stoke the swelling. One popular treatment method uses paraffin wax heated to a melting temperature of about 50°C. A hand is dipped repeatedly to eventually form a thick layer of solid wax for slow and steady heat dissipation into the affected joints.

While physiotherapists offer this in their clinics, commercial and home models of paraffin wax heating tubs as well as paraffin wax are very affordable and easily available online. If you wish to make do with more commonly available household setups, hot baths or microwavable hot packs may be up-to-task too. Just be careful not to scald your skin. 

4. Try therapeutic, mind-body exercises 

Traditional Chinese exercises (TCE) such as tai chi, ba duan jin (八段锦), yi jin jing (易筋经), and wu qin xi (五禽戏) can potentially alleviate joint stiffness. With slow movements and musculoskeletal stretching, combined with deep diaphragmatic breathing, your qi and blood circulation will improve and remove any blockage that causes joint pain in the fingers.

If you have arthritis, Physician Chong states that TCE brings warmth to the affected joints. “It also serves as a training to muscle building and joints strengthening, improving one’s agility and mobility,” she further explains. 

5. Eat right 

Inflammation is a natural reaction of our bodies in response to tissue injury. However, there are various foods that can regulate the inflammatory responses. Avoid foods that are deep-fried or high in sugar content. Instead, go for foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon or a flaxseed drink. 

6. Leave it to the experts 

As much as you may wish to treat the joint pain in your fingers, there are days that things are better left to the experts. Physical therapists have the required knowledge and tools to help you devise a treatment plan. If the sight of needles doesn’t make you cringe, acupuncture can be effective in reducing inflammation and pain, and a qualified acupuncturist can assist you with that.

Certified TCM practitioners can examine your bodily conditions, recognise a pattern of disharmony and address the root of your pain. In the most severe cases, surgery performed by an orthopaedic specialist may be the last straw for a chance to rid of that joint pain in the fingers.

Person stretching their fingers
Exercising your fingers will help in decreasing your risk of joint pain in the fingers.

Finger Exercises for Constant Joint Pain 

Jobs that require you to make repetitive motions with your hands may increase your risk of joint pain. To avoid the condition from worsening, Physician Chong advises allocating around five minutes every day to do these simple finger exercises:  

  • Fist making: Slowly bend your hand into a fist with the thumb outside of the hand, hold for 30 to 60 seconds, then release.  
  • Finger stretching: Palm facing down, gently stretch fingers as flat as possible, hold for 30 to 60 seconds, then release.  
  • Finger lifting: Palm facing down, gently lift each finger as high as possible, then release.  
  • Thumb touching: Gently touch the thumb to each of the other four fingertips, one at a time, making the shape of an “O”.  
  • Finger bending: Gently bend each finger towards the centre of the palm, then release.  
  • Thumbs up: Hold hand in a loose fist, point thumb up into thumbs-up sign, and then release.  
  • Wrist stretch: Lift arm with palm facing down, take the other hand and gently press the whole hand towards the ground, then release.  
  • Easy squeeze: Squeeze a soft ball as hard as possible, then release it.  

Joint pain in fingers can happen at any age, and it’s best to act during its early onset. If you notice that you experience constant musculoskeletal pain or are working a physically demanding job, add a joint health supplement to your diet. Share this article with friends and family so you can help them be free from uncomfortable joint pain.

References

  1. Americal College of Rheumatology, 2011, Determinants of Incident and Persistent Finger Joint Pain During a Five-Year Followup Among Female Dentists and Teachers.  [Accessed on 22 June 2022] 
  2. New Straits Times, 2021, Rheumatoid arthritis in young adults. [Accessed on 22 June 2022] 

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