Finger Joint Pain: Signs You Have It and Exercises for Relief

When your fingers are sore and achy, the reason could be finger joint pain. Learn more about common causes, treatment tips, and exercises to feel better.

Published Date: Oct 13, 2023
woman-looking-at-her-fingers-worried

Finger Joint Pain: Signs You Have It and Exercises for Relief

When your fingers are sore and achy, the reason could be finger joint pain. Learn more about common causes, treatment tips, and exercises to feel better.

Published Date: Oct 13, 2023
woman-looking-at-her-fingers-worried

Finger Joint Pain: Signs You Have It and Exercises for Relief

When your fingers are sore and achy, the reason could be finger joint pain. Learn more about common causes, treatment tips, and exercises to feel better.

Published Date: Oct 13, 2023
woman-looking-at-her-fingers-worried

Finger Joint Pain: Signs You Have It and Exercises for Relief

When your fingers are sore and achy, the reason could be finger joint pain. Learn more about common causes, treatment tips, and exercises to feel better.

Published Date: Oct 13, 2023
woman-looking-at-her-fingers-worried
Table of Contents

Take a second to think about the things you do with your hands and fingers every single day. From picking up your toothbrush to tying your shoes to pulling something out of your wallet to texting on your phone and typing at your computer, the list goes on. You’d certainly need more than your 10 fingers to tally up all the ways you count on your hands to help you with just about everything. So when you experience finger joint pain, it can really interfere with seemingly simple day-to-day tasks and activities. 

“The biggest issue with finger joint pain is when people try to work around it and stop moving the injured finger,” says Samantha Stewart, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health. “It's natural to want to avoid moving or using an area that's painful, but this can actually get in the way of your function and healing.”

Even though it may hurt a bit, maintaining movement is one of the best things you can do to reduce finger joint pain and regain function. 

Here, learn more about what causes finger joint pain, plus treatment tips and exercises for relief from our Hinge Health physical therapists.

Our Hinge Health Experts

Samantha Stewart, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Dr. Stewart is a Hinge Health physical therapist with over 8 years of experience. She is certified in myofascial trigger point therapy.
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
Orthopedic Surgeon and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Lee is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and an Associate Medical Director at Hinge Health.
Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Peterson is a Hinge Health physical therapist who focuses on developing clinical exercise therapy programs and member education.

What Is Finger Joint Pain? 

Finger joint pain is an umbrella term that describes a host of symptoms — pain, swelling, stiffness, loss of mobility — that occurs in the joints of the fingers. 

Joints are formed wherever two or more bones meet. Each finger has three joints; each thumb has two. “It’s important to have motion in each joint since they all contribute to overall hand function and are necessary for all sorts of tasks, including those that involve gripping, lifting, and writing,” says Dr. Stewart. 

In addition to the narrow bones (known as phalanges), fingers also have ligaments, which connect finger bones and help keep them in place, and tendons, which connect muscles to bones. Finger movement is controlled by hand and forearm muscles that pull on finger tendons. 

Common Causes of Finger Joint Pain

There are two main causes of finger joint pain:

  • Injury. This includes sprains (in which ligaments are injured) and strains (in which tendons are injured). Both sprains and strains are very common, but “you’re more likely to have joint pain when you have a sprain because a sprain more directly affects the joint, while a strain affects the structures around the joint,” says Dr. Stewart. Injuries can also include “mallet finger,” which results from an injury to the tendons that straightens the tip of your finger or thumb, causing limited range of motion, pain, and swelling.

  • Arthritis, which causes joint inflammation, typically manifests with pain, swelling, reduced range of motion, and stiffness. The most common, osteoarthritis (OA), often first affects the joints of the fingers, including the base of the thumbs. The second-most common type of arthritis is rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune inflammatory disease, which often appears in the small joints of the hands, including the fingers and thumbs. 

There are other causes of finger pain that aren’t related to joint issues at all, but rather are due to an underlying condition that affects the tendons located in your fingers. Each can lead to pain, stiffness, and limited mobility:

  • De Quervain’s tenosynovitis. This painful swelling around your thumb tendons usually causes pain near the base of your thumb that can affect your wrist and extend into your forearm. 

  • Trigger finger. This is a condition that can “freeze” your fingers or thumb in a flexed position. It affects the tendons in these digits and gets its names from the positions they can get stuck in — it looks like you’re trying to pull an invisible trigger.

When to See a Doctor 

If your finger pain or swelling is severe or doesn’t improve with home treatment, you should see a healthcare professional, who can rule out something serious like a fracture. Likewise, you should see a doctor if you experience unexplained pain that doesn’t go away or change. “Finger joint pain generally fluctuates,” says Dr. Stewart. 

Treatment Options for Finger Joint Pain

Treatment for finger joint pain focuses on pain and inflammation relief to improve movement in your fingers. The following tips from our Hinge Health physical therapists and medical doctors can provide relief for finger joint pain:

Reduce strain. “One of the most important things to do when you have pain in your fingers is to decrease strain on the area,” says Dr. Stewart. “But rather than stopping an activity altogether, focus on relieving stress by adapting to the activity and making it easier on your body.” For example, if you’re writing your to-do list or addressing a stack of thank you cards, she recommends building in a break or using a bigger pen that’s easier to grip. 

Consider over-the-counter pain medication. Pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), and acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be helpful for finger joint pain. It’s important to make sure that you are safely able to take these medications, based on your medical history.

Note: If your finger joint pain is due to a form of inflammatory arthritis, like rheumatoid arthritis, your doctor should refer you to a rheumatologist. Certain medications, known as disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), have been shown to be very effective in preventing your immune system from attacking your joints.

Use ice and heat. Each addresses pain differently: Ice decreases inflammation and heat relaxes tissues so you’re more mobile. Dr. Stewart recommends finding what works best for you or switching back and forth between the two. “When treating patients in the clinic, we start with heat as a warm-up, and end with ice to calm the body back down,” she says.

Engage in exercise therapy. “Movement is my favorite thing,” says Dr. Stewart. It helps in several ways, including reducing swelling and increasing mobility. Gentle exercise signals to your body and your pain system that movement is safe. A common misunderstanding about exercises on an area as small as the fingers is that they won’t provide much of a benefit, but “just because the exercises don’t feel rigorous or don’t break a sweat doesn’t mean they won’t make a difference over time in your day-to-day function and quality of life,” says Dr. Stewart.

Modify daily activities that hurt your hands. Whether you’re recovering from an injury or living with arthritis in hands and fingers, there are many ways to decrease the stress on the joints, including using assistive devices — like utensils or kitchen tools with bigger grips. The increased diameter on these devices helps remove external pressure on the small joints in your fingers. It’s also a good idea to use the larger joints of your upper body for certain tasks, like carrying grocery bags across your palms instead of dangling off your fingers. 

Exercises for Finger Joint Pain

Get 100+ similar exercises for free

  • Towel Squeeze
  • Finger Extensions
  • Finger Abduction
  • Hand Tendon Glides

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You’ll notice that the exercises above work the whole hand and not just the fingers. That’s because research shows that a generalized approach to exercises for finger joint pain provides the greatest benefit. “Better function of the entire hand sets up the fingers for success, including reduction in pain and improvement in mobility, flexibility, strength, and fine motor skills,” says Dr. Stewart.

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

PT Tip: Small Joints Don’t Always Equal a Small Problem

Don’t downplay the discomfort in your fingers just because it seems minor. “Early intervention is key with finger joint issues,” says Dr. Stewart. “Proactive steps that don’t take much work have huge, long-term benefits, especially for something that’s so pivotal to maintaining function.”

How Hinge Health Can Help You

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program. 

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.  

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you. 

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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References

  1. Sawyers, T. August 15, 2018. Pain in Finger Joint When Pressed. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/pain-in-finger-joint-when-pressed 

  2. Medical Illustrations: Pictures of Finger Anatomy. (n.d.). eMedicineHealth. Retrieved from https://www.emedicinehealth.com/image-gallery/finger_anatomy_picture/images.htm

  3. White, J. October 15, 2019. Possible causes of finger joint pain: from infections and injuries to underlying health conditions. Everlywell. https://www.everlywell.com/blog/sti-testing/possible-causes-of-finger-joint-pain/

  4. Eske, J. April 28, 2023. What causes finger joint pain, and how to remedy it. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/finger-joint-pain

  5. Pendergast, T. February 8, 2023. Assistive Devices for Arthritis of the Hands: Protecting Your Joints. Hospital for Special Surgery. https://www.hss.edu/conditions_assistive-devices-for-the-hand-small-joint-protection.asp