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What Actions Help Preserve Manual Dexterity in People With Hand Arthritis?

Manual Dexterity Can Be Compromised by Arthritis


Updated May 30, 2014

Question: What Actions Help Preserve Manual Dexterity?

Manual dexterity is the ability to make coordinated hand and finger movements. Manual dexterity may be compromised by arthritis, affecting ability to grasp, manipulate and maneuver objects.

What actions help preserve manual dexterity in people with arthritis of the hand? What can help prolong manual dexterity (i.e. splints, supports, hand exercises, paraffin wax baths)? Do joint replacements of the knuckles and finger joints restore manual dexterity?


Manual dexterity may be compromised from arthritis, but there are simple things that can help if you act early to help prolong your dexterity.

(1) Gentle passive range of motion (someone else moves your joints) will improve flexibility. Light strengthening using isometric techniques (you do the movement), you will strenghten the muscles that support your joints and may slow down damage.

(2) Protect against excess strain on the joints by the avoidance of tight gripping and powerful pinching. Instead use larger handles and a loose grip when possible. Try to hold objects in the palm as opposed to fingers and use two hands instead of one whenever possible.

(3) Heat from paraffin baths or hot packs helps to relieve pain, increase circulation and relax muscles.

(4) Splinting helps rest your joints in a comfortable position thereby decreasing pain and inflammation. They also provide stability to joints such as the thumb during strenuous tasks.

(5) Avoid starting an activity you cannot stop and pace yourself to avoid increased pain from activity.

Do joint replacements of the knuckles and finger joints restore manual dexterity?

While joint replacements may help manual dexterity, the major indication for joint replacement is to help relieve pain.

An occupational therapist is an integral part of the team working to combat the effects of arthritis.

A consult with an occupational therapist may be very helpful in the long term management of arthritis that affects the upper extremity.

Related Resources

Answer provided by Pam Vecella and Scott J. Zashin, M.D.
Pam Vecella is an occupational therapist at Richardson Medical Center; Richardson, Texas. Dr. Zashin is clinical assistant professor at University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, Division of Rheumatology, in Dallas, Texas. Dr. Zashin is also an attending physician at Presbyterian Hospitals of Dallas and Plano. He is a fellow of the American College of Physicians and the American College of Rheumatology and a member of the American Medical Association. Dr. Zashin is author of Arthritis Without Pain - The Miracle Of TNF Blockers. The book is a must-have for anyone on one of the biologic drugs (Enbrel, Remicade, Humira) or considering the biologic drugs. Read my review of the book.

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