What is Hand Stiffness?
Stiff hands or stiff fingers can be uncomfortable and frustrating, limiting the range of movement in the affected areas, making your hands feel weak. There are 27 bones in each hand, and wear and tear over time can lead to stiff finger joints when we rely on them every day, particularly in a repetitive motion or working in a manual labour profession. Stiffness in hands and fingers can affect anyone and happen for a number of reasons including injury, repetitive hand strain, arthritis, or carpal tunnel syndrome. Stiffness may occur more in the morning and can remain constant or even worsen over time. Depending on the cause, treatments are available to alleviate symptoms and possibly eliminate them altogether.
What are the typical symptoms of Hand Stiffness?
Depending on the cause of your hand stiffness, symptoms may vary. If an injury has occurred and you suspect a break or fracture, or there is significant bruising, seek urgent medical attention. The following symptoms apply to a range of different conditions, but are generic to hands and fingers feeling stiff:
- Dull pain. You may experience a dull or burning pain, and this may be worse after gripping or repetitive use. Pain may also be felt around the base of the thumb and in the wrist. Hand pain causes limited dexterity and can be made worse by continuing to use them in a strenuous activity.
- Stiffness in joints. Stiff hands in the morning and difficulty making a fist or gripping may be experienced. The stiffness may ease, remain, or possibly worsen throughout the day, and can give a sensation of the hands locking up.
- Swelling. Swollen hands and fingers may accompany stiffness and can be uncomfortable and painful. The sensation of swollen fingers might be experienced even if there is no visible swelling.
- Warm hands. Feeling warm to the touch or a redness of the skin in the affected area. This is caused by inflammation around the bones and joints.
Symptoms in other areas of the body may also be experienced, including:
- Fever. Particularly at night, a fever may be experienced alongside stiff hands. As a result, sweating may follow.
- Fatigue. Feeling more tired than usual, lethargic, and lacking in energy.
What causes Hand Stiffness?
The bones, muscles and joints in the hands and fingers are complex, allowing us to use them in a range of different movements. Hands are vulnerable to wear and tear due to how much we rely on them. There are numerous causes of hand stiffness:
- Injury. A recent injury may cause hand stiffness. Injuries may have caused a fracture, sprain, dislocation or damage to a muscle or tendon. If you have recently experienced a hand injury and are suffering with stiffness, seek urgent medical attention.
- Arthritis. There are two types of arthritis (osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis), both of which tend to develop in later life. Arthritis may be genetic or develop due to a hormonal imbalance; there is also evidence that shows smoking increases the risk of developing arthritis.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome. This occurs when a nerve that runs from your forearm to the middle of the hand (called the median nerve) gets constricted by the carpal tunnel, a narrow passageway between bones, tendons, and ligaments in the wrist.
- Tenosynovitis. The types of this condition, including stenosing and De Quervain’s tenosynovitis, causes inflammation in the tendons around the thumb and fingers. Movement in affected fingers becomes affected, and can be quite painful.
- Gout. Caused by a type of arthritis, gout is a sudden swelling in the joints that can become painful. It is more common in the feet and knees, however some cases of stiff and swollen panful hands have been attributed to gout.
How to help prevent Hand Stiffness
If you’re aware of what causes hand stiffness, avoiding or reducing this activity can prevent it coming back as regularly. Wearing a splint over the hand and wrist, as well as the following stretches and exercises, can prevent hand stiffness:
- Making a fist. Open the hand with fingers stretched as far as possible, then gently make a soft fist (without clenching too tightly). The thumb should sit across the top of the fingers, not inside. This will increase movement in the hand over time.
- Flexing. Put your open hand flat on a table with the palm facing upwards. Slowly lift your fingers towards the palm and then back down to the table again whilst keeping your wrist straight. Complete ten repetitions of this to provide a better freedom of movement in the muscles and tendons.
- Finger stretches. With the palm of your hand flat on a table, apply a small amount of pressure so the fingers are as flat as possible and hold for one minute. Be sure to not cause yourself pain and only apply as much pressure you’re comfortable with.
- Grip strengtheners. Small devices are available to reduce aching hands and fingers by building up strength. These can be soft spongy balls or a handheld pair of bars with a spring between them.
How is Hand Stiffness typically diagnosed?
A gentle physical examination of your hands carried out by a doctor is the first step to diagnosing your condition. This is to provide further information relating to your range of movement and swelling (if any). The doctor may also ask how much activity you do, including your occupation, and the duration of time you have been suffering with hand stiffness. Any relevant medical history, including family history of arthritis, would also be explored.
A doctor may order one or more of the following tests to help diagnose hand stiffness, and rule out other conditions:
- Blood tests. Testing for certain analytes in the blood that may be indicative of arthritis.
- X-ray or MRI scan. It’s common for a doctor to request imaging to investigate the bones and connective tissues in more detail. While exposed to a minimal amount of radiation during an X-ray, X-rays and MRI scans are completely painless procedures.
How is Hand Stiffness treated?
Depending on your diagnosis, age, severity and other health conditions, the best treatment options will be discussed with you by a doctor. One or more of the following treatments may be recommended:
- Stretches. A doctor can provide daily stretches to do at home which will reduce the risk of (or even completely irradicate) hand stiffness returning.
- Medication. Some over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen or aspirin may be recommended. In other cases, you may require a prescription medication to manage your symptoms.
- Splints or casts. You may be given a cast or splint to wear over the affected hand(s) to help with your condition.
- Injections. In more severe cases, injecting steroids such as hydrocortisone or certain types of enzymes into the affected areas can alleviate symptoms.
- Surgery. Exploring the idea of surgery is often a last resort where other treatments have failed; a doctor will discuss this option with you during treatment.
If you are diagnosed with a specific health condition, a doctor can provide the necessary treatment and management for this.
How can Doctify help with Hand Stiffness?
At Doctify, we are proud to work with leading specialists in all fields of medicine. Our service could put you in touch with some of the country’s leading consultants based on real patient reviews. To find the right doctor for you, visit www.doctify.com/uk.