Anatomy 101: Finger Joint Pain, Arthritis and How Massage Can Help
Anatomy 101: Finger Joint Pain, Arthritis and How Massage Can Help

Anatomy 101: Finger Joint Pain, Arthritis and How Massage Can Help

By Ben Benjamin , PhD
2020-2-10

Anatomy 101: Finger Joint Pain, Arthritis and How Massage Can Help

By Ben Benjamin , PhD
2020-2-10

Most people think developing arthritis and achy, painful joints is a natural part of aging—but this is not true. A joint that aches indicates there is some type of tissue damage that is expressing itself as inflammation. Pain with joint movement signals the brain to produce excess synovial fluid in the joint, which in turn limits that joint’s movement. Healthy joints have a full range of motion that may diminish slightly with age but should not be painful. An inflammation in the joint is called arthritis. “Arth” stands for bone and “itis” stands for inflammation.

There are many, many types of arthritis:

• Traumatic arthritis

• Osteoarthritis

• Rheumatoid arthritis

• Psoriatic arthritis

Most people have what is defined as traumatic arthritis, which is fairly easy to treat. I have seen dozens of clients with finger joint pain for many years who get rid of it in a matter of days when they receive the proper treatment.

Traumatic Arthritis of the Finger Joints

When a finger joint is inflamed and painful, visible swelling and redness are sometimes present. But often in the fingers, the swelling is so minute you can’t see it. Typically, there is less than one drop of synovial fluid in each finger joint, so having two or three drops of synovial fluid in a finger joint makes a big difference. When passive flexion and/or passive extension are painful, the joint is inflamed. (For easy ways to test joints, see Assessing Joints of the Fingers in the December issue of Massage Today. Online at massagetoday.com/benbenjamin.) Sometimes, multiple joints are affected but the person is only aware of the worst. If the inflammation is very slight and the person is otherwise healthy, performing active assisted stretching very gently on the joint will likely be curative. You can also teach the client to do these stretches daily on their own to extend the benefits of massage sessions.

Tips To Keep Pain at Bay

Encourage the client to stretch and strengthen their fingers on a daily basis after the pain is gone. What field does your client work in? If they are a tailor, calligrapher, or baker—for example—help them think about positive ways to relieve pressure during working hours. Recommend drinking plenty of water and maintaining a healthy diet. Never pass an opportunity to learn more about your client’s hobbies or sports activities. Sometimes, pain is caused by factors stemming from these situations.

After the pain has been significantly reduced or is totally gone, perform active assisted stretching (AAS) on each joint for a few months, and give the client self-care stretches they can do between massage therapy sessions.

Check out these related articles:

6 Assessment Tests for the Joints of the Fingers

Assessing and Treating the Golfer's Elbow