5 causes and treatments for finger joint pain

Pain in Hands and Fingers Not Arthritis

Every single one of your joints is utilized during everyday activities. For example, your shoulder is used to reach something off a high shelf and your knees help you walk up the stairs in your home. Your finger joints are used dozens of times a day without you even noticing it — until they start to cause pain.

Finger joint pain can make it difficult to do small tasks throughout the day, from turning a doorknob to typing on your computer at work. There are many potential causes for pain in your finger joints. By learning about the possible explanations, you can gain an understanding of the treatments that will be most effective in alleviating the pain.

We’ll talk about the possible causes of finger joint pain. Then we’ll dive into the treatment options that can help, including physical therapy.

5 possible reasons for your finger joint pain

Each of your fingers has three joints to connect the phalange bones: metacarpophalangeal joint (where the finger connects to your hand), proximal interphalangeal joint (middle of the finger), and distal interphalangeal joint (before the fingernail).

If you feel any sort of pain in a finger joint, whether it be a dull, lingering ache or a sharp pain when it’s pressed, you shouldn’t just brush it off. Finger joint pain is frustrating on its own. However, it’s often associated with other symptoms that could interfere with your quality of life. Joint pain is often coupled with a reduced range of motion.

Here are a few potential causes of finger joint pain:

  • Tendinitis — If your fingers are too stiff to bend, or you feel pain in the joints when trying to do so, you may have tendinitis. This means that the tendon in your finger has become inflamed due to overuse. It comes from repetitive finger movements, like typing on a computer at work. Tendinitis can also be caused by an injury.
  • Osteoarthritis — A type of arthritis that can affect your finger joints is osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease that can develop over time. It causes the joint cartilage at the end of the bones to break down. It can cause joint pain and stiffness that reduces your fingers’ range of motion, especially at the base of the thumb.
  • Sprain — One of the most common types of injuries that can cause pain in your finger joints is a sprain. When a finger is sprained, it means that the ligaments supporting your joint have torn or become overstretched. The ligaments are the bands of soft tissue that connect your bones and stabilize the joint. A finger ligament can be sprained from “jamming” it, bending it in the wrong direction, or falling on it.
  • Trigger finger — When your finger gets stuck in a bent position but then snaps straight, it’s known as trigger finger, or stenosing tenosynovitis. It means that the tendon can’t move properly due to swelling and irritation of the sheath surrounding it. It can impact your joint, causing pain and stiffness that makes it difficult to straighten or bend your finger. 
  • Rheumatoid arthritis — There are many types of arthritis that can affect the joints. However, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is one of the most common to develop in the fingers. RA is an autoimmune inflammatory disease characterized by the immune system attacking the body’s cells, including the lining of the joints. Along with pain and stiffness, RA can cause swelling in the joints.

5 treatment options for finger joint pain

Now that we’ve discussed the potential reasons for your finger joint pain, it’s time to figure out how to alleviate the pain and restore your fingers’ mobility. Some treatment options can be done at home through self-care, while others may require the insight and guidance of a health care professional, such as a physician or physical therapist:

  • Hot and cold therapy — If you’re looking for temporary pain relief at home, alternating between cold packs and hot compresses can be effective. The cold will numb the joint area to reduce your pain and inflammation. The heat will boost circulation to the area and relax the affected tissue. 
  • Medication — Ask your doctor about taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to temporarily alleviate your joint pain. They will determine which NSAID will be best based on the cause of your pain and your medical history. Common NSAIDs for joint pain are ibuprofen and naproxen.
  • Menthol-based cream — Piggybacking off the medication option is using menthol-based cream. It can temporarily relieve the pain stemming from your joints by desensitizing the nerves with a cooling sensation. It can be especially effective for pain from sprains and arthritis. Ask your doctor about if a topical cream is right for you based on your other medications and potential allergic reactions.
  • Daily activity adjustments — One of the best ways to provide long-term pain relief from your finger joint pain is to reduce the stress placed on them during your everyday activities. Adapt an activity to decrease the strain placed on your finger joint. Try using more comfortable writing utensils or adjusting the way you hold kitchen utensils. A physical therapist can help make recommendations that can help.
  • Physical therapy — If you’re experiencing persistent or worsening finger joint pain, physical therapy is one of the most effective courses of action. A physical therapist can design a personalized treatment plan for you that will reduce your pain while improving the overall quality and function of your fingers, hand and wrist. Common physical therapy treatments for finger joint pain are targeted exercises, manual therapy and patient education.

Physical therapy treatments for finger joint pain

Physical therapy is an effective option for treating finger joint pain because it not only alleviates the current pain, but it can also improve the quality of the joints to reduce the risk of future issues or injuries in the future. 

Your physical therapist will carry out an evaluation to determine the likely cause of your finger joint pain. Then they can design a personalized treatment plan based on the cause as well as the severity of your symptoms, medical history and physical abilities. 

Here are a few treatment options that your physical therapist is likely to include in your sessions for finger joint pain:

  • Therapeutic exercises — A physical therapist will walk you through safe and effective exercises that will reduce your pain, increase the range of motion of your finger joints and restore their function to carry out regular activities, such as turning a doorknob.
  • Joint mobilization — A common manual therapy technique used for stiff and painful joints is joint mobilization. It involves the therapist using their hands to gently move around the joint to find and loosen up the restrictive soft tissue to increase mobility and function.
  • Education — It’s important to not only alleviate your current joint issues, but also reduce the risk of them occurring again by learning how to protect the joints. Your physical therapist will teach you to make adjustments in your day-to-day life to reduce the strain on your joints and decrease the risk of an injury. This can mean everything from recommendations for ergonomic keyboards to adjusting your hand positioning during everyday activities.
  • Custom splinting — If you’ve sustained a finger joint injury that’s struggling to heal, your physical therapist may create a custom splint to help your fingers function throughout the day without worsening the damage or erasing progress.

At Border Therapy Services, we’re here to treat your finger pain and get you back to the quality of life you deserve. We’ll use our expertise and insight from your evaluation to pinpoint the likely cause of your pain. Then, we’ll design a personalized treatment plan based on the severity of your symptoms and physical capabilities. With everything from joint mobilization to custom splinting, we can help alleviate your finger pain while improving its overall function.

Call us or request an appointment today to determine the likely cause of your finger joint pain and how to treat it.