Health issues make weight training more challenging and that includes stiff or painful joints. There’s a lot of focus on achy backs and arthritic knees, but there’s another common problem that can hamper strength training – hand and finger pain because of arthritis. If you have stiff and painful joints in your hands and fingers, you may have trouble grasping a weight or holding it for long or you may feel discomfort when you do bodyweight exercises where you bear weight on your hands such as planks. However, there are ways to make your training more comfortable.
Stiff, Painful Hands and Arthritis
Arthritis can affect many joints in the body, and one of the more common places arthritis manifests is in the joints in the fingers and hands. Rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis are two kinds of arthritis that affect the joints in the hands and fingers, although there are as many as one hundred different types. Some signs and symptoms suggestive of arthritis in the hands include pain in the hands or fingers, swelling around the joints, stiffness, and reduced range-of-motion. In severe cases, the joints can become deformed as the joint becomes more damaged.
Joint stiffness can make ordinary movements painful. Try opening a jar when you have painful finger joints! Repetitive activities like typing or using hand tools are challenging too. You may also feel discomfort when strength training with weights. If the joints in your hands and fingers hurt, it can hurt when you grip a dumbbell. But despite these limitations, we all need strength training to preserve muscle mass. Plus, if you have arthritis in other joints, such as your back or knees, strengthening the muscles that support the joints can reduce joint pain and stiffness and make the condition easier to live with.
Weight Training with Hand Arthritis
What can you do to make strength training easier if you have sore or achy joints in your hands? First, it’s important to reduce the number of times you use your hands and fingers to do fine movements like adjusting or changing weights. Therefore, adjustable dumbbells where you have to change the weight aren’t a good option since you have to remove or add plates to change the resistance.
Look for dumbbells with rubber padding or foam around the areas where you grip it. These dumbbells are easier on your grip and softer on your hands. For some exercises, like squats, you can even hold a medicine ball as opposed to dumbbells or barbells to add resistance. A medicine ball is easier on your hands as your hands are in a more outstretched position.
Regardless of what type of dumbbells you use, invest in a pair of special weightlifting gloves that have extra cushioning for arthritic hands. Most are made of an extra-thick layer of neoprene and have extra wrist support. People with carpal tunnel syndrome also use these gloves when they weight train. The neoprene will absorb some of the pressure the weights expose your hands to.
As the Arthritis Foundation points out, resistance bands are a good strength training option for people with arthritis. If the bands don’t already have loops at the end, tie them into one, so you don’t have to grasp the ends of the bands. You can do most of the same exercises with resistance bands that you can with dumbbells, and resistance bands have the advantage of challenging the muscle through the full range-of-motion of the exercise. Plus, they’re easier to control, which lowers the risk of injury.
Other Tips for Weight Training with Arthritic Hand Joints
As with any medical condition, check with your physician before training if you have severe arthritis in your hands or other joints. There are medical treatments that can help with the pain and stiffness if you have joint inflammation. Always do a thorough warm-up before training to get the blood flowing to your muscles and joints. In fact, add a few minutes to your warm-up if you have arthritis.
Do a prolonged cooldown too. After a cooldown, applying heat to your hands may be helpful. One option is to soak your hands or entire body in a hot tub or take a warm bath. You can also apply heat directly to your fingers and hands with a heating pad. Although cold can be helpful for some forms of arthritis, such as gout, where there’s active inflammation, heat works best for osteoarthritis.
Be careful about how you use your hands when you aren’t weight training. Don’t open jars with your bare hands. Invest in one of the many devices available that help you safely open a jar if you have arthritis.
Strength Training: You Need It!
If you have arthritis in your fingers and hands, you may have other joints affected, but don’t shy away from training unless your physician tells you so. Studies show strengthening the muscles that support your joints improves functionality reduces stiffness and pain. Focus on form rather than the amount of weight you’re using and let pain be your guide. If an exercise feels uncomfortable, don’t do it. Also, add extra time to your warm-up before picking up weights and always do a cooldown.
Exercises for Arthritic Hands
One way to ease stiffness and improve the flexibility and mobility of arthritic hands is to do gentle hand exercises to strengthen the muscles that support and protect the joints in the hands. Slow, controlled finger bends will improve finger range-of-motion if you do them consistently. Another exercise you can do anywhere is to make a fist and then open your hand as wide as you can in a slow and controlled manner. Your physician or a physical therapist can recommend other exercises to improve hand mobility and flexibility.
The Bottom Line
We all need strength training, but arthritis in the hands and fingers makes it more challenging. Always talk to your physician before working with weights if you have significant arthritic changes in your hands and fingers. But once you get the okay, use these tips to make strength training safer and more comfortable.
· OrthoInfo.com. “Arthritis of the Hand”
· WebMD.com. “Strength Training for Your Rheumatoid Arthritis”
· Arthritis Foundation. “Resistance Bands”
· Mayo Clinic. “Slide show: Hand exercises for people with arthritis”