Steve Bailey is a physical therapist and the owner of Prompt Physical Therapy in Knoxville, Tennessee. A practicing physical therapist for 18 years, he holds...
Physical therapy can help restore hand function and ease pain caused by osteoarthritis.
It helps to understand what's happening in the hands affected by arthritis: The affected joints may not
move properly, and there's also excessive stress on the cartilage. The normal function of the cartilage is to distribute the load on the joint over as large an area as possible, allowing motion between two sides of the joints with as little friction and wear as possible. This movement is important to the health of the cartilage; because it has no blood supply, it relies on movement to stimulate special cells called chondroblasts, which produce collagen that "feeds" the cartilage.
A physical therapist can perform special movements called joint mobilizations that help restore the mobility of the joint and normalize the movements along the cartilage. These movements -- known as compression, decompression, and gliding -- can stimulate the chondroblasts to get to work feeding the cartilage. A gliding movement also helps the synovial fluid (which surrounds the cartilage in a synovial joint) to penetrate the cartilage so it can work better. One reason that many people tend to feel stiff in the morning is that our joints haven't yet warmed up and become "lubed" with movement in this way.
With arthritis in the hands, a physical therapist often focuses on the carpal-metacarpal joint, the one that allows us to move our thumbs in a circle.
Whether the arthritis is in the hands, knees, or back, the type of training a physical therapist has can make a difference in the outcome. It's helpful to seek someone who specializes in manual physical therapy, which is hands-on bodywork.