More than 54 million adults in the United States live with doctor-diagnosed arthritis. These are only persons who have officially been diagnosed. Some believe that if we were to include people who have not been diagnosed but who have symptoms consistent with a diagnosis of arthritis, this number would increase to over 91 million adults.
While arthritis could affect people of all ages, it is more prevalent in the elderly. According to the CDC, nearly half of people 65 years or older have doctor-diagnosed arthritis. Considering that many people have arthritis-related symptoms that are not diagnosed by a doctor, it is possible that you or your loved one may have arthritis without realizing it.
Arthritis causes pain and inflammation that affect your joints. Most people who have rheumatoid arthritis, undifferentiated inflammatory arthritis, or hand osteoarthritis experience symptoms that affect their hands. These symptoms include stiffness, swelling, joint pain, muscle weakness, and tingling or prickling sensations in the hands or wrists. More symptoms include difficulty moving the fingers or making a fist, reduced range of motion in the fingers and wrists, and reduced grip strength. In some cases, it could also cause deformities of the hands.
The symptoms often affect both hands and make performing daily activities challenging. When these symptoms affect your daily activities, work, and leisure activities, it could cause distress or frustration. A third of people diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis or inflammatory arthritis become disabled and unable to work within five years. Nearly half of persons with doctor-diagnosed arthritis found that they could no longer participate in certain activities due to their arthritis symptoms.
Arthritis, particularly rheumatoid arthritis, is incurable and can cause considerable disability if it is not treated. In most cases, rheumatoid arthritis can be managed by treating symptoms with disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, rehabilitation, and self-management education.
Part of the treatment for arthritis involves occupational therapy. Most rheumatology occupational therapists prescribe compression gloves to supplement other treatment methods that their patients may be receiving.
What are compression gloves?
Compression gloves, also sometimes called arthritis gloves, are often prescribed to alleviate arthritis-related symptoms. They may also be prescribed as part of rehabilitation after surgery recovery. The gloves are made of a blend of nylon and elastane and are usually prescribed for daytime wear to improve hand function and reduce pain and night-time wear to reduce pain and morning stiffness and improve your sleep. In some cases, compression therapy offers temporary relief from arthritic symptoms that could be debilitating otherwise.
How compression gloves can help older adults manage arthritis symptoms, pain, and mobility in their hands.
The research behind how they work and, in fact, whether compression gloves work to alleviate arthritic symptoms in your hands is inconclusive. Some researchers found that compression gloves effects are beneficial, while others found that there was no difference in symptoms between persons who wore compression gloves and those who wore regular gloves (or a placebo). In some cases, users reported that the compression gloves worsened their condition.
The theory behind compression gloves holds that the snug fit and gentle compression remove some of the fluid around your cells and increases blood flow. The reduced fluid could lower the amount of pain and stiffness you experience. It could also make it easier for you to move your fingers. Increased blood flow makes your hands warmer, and this can reduce hand pain.
Some suggest that it is not necessarily the compression that helps to alleviate arthritis symptoms. Instead, the warmth provided by these gloves could be the reason why some people benefit from wearing them. Some compression gloves, like other gloves, were found to raise the skin temperature of the wearer by 1°C. This increase provides a soothing effect to sore or swollen joints.
Another reason could be that the gloves remind you to be mindful of your hands and especially your hand joints.
People who wear compression gloves do so because they provide support, comfort and keep their hands warm. They are most often worn to keep hands warm while spending time outdoors, during the night to help with sleep quality, and while doing light housework. Compression gloves should not be worn while cooking, washing up or grooming, or toileting for apparent reasons.
What to look for in compression gloves and what to know before buying them.
Compression gloves are designed to help alleviate hand symptoms related to arthritis. As with many things, there is no one “best” pair of compression gloves. One pair may work wonderfully for you but could be a poor fit for someone else. Here are a few things to consider when looking for a pair of compression gloves.
Fit and type.
Compression gloves should fit snugly while not restricting blood circulation in your hands and fingers. They should not be so tight that they cause you to experience pins and needles in your hands.
Compression gloves come in a variety of sizes to ensure a snug fit. They have different finger lengths. The most common finger lengths are three-quarter and full finger. Full finger gloves will provide additional warmth, while some tasks like sewing or typing could be more manageable with three-quarter gloves. Three-quarter compression gloves incorporate an open finger design that leaves your fingertips exposed while still potentially offering relief from arthritic pain.
If you experience symptoms mainly in your hands (and not in your fingers), you could consider wearing fingerless compression gloves. These provide mild compression around your hands while leaving your fingers free to perform tasks.
While most compression gloves are made of elastane and nylon, some have other elements incorporated into the material. For example, copper compression gloves are made of a material that is infused with copper for added benefits. Copper infused gloves have antimicrobial properties that may be appealing. Other gloves may be heated. Heated gloves can promote relief from arthritis pain and swelling.
How much compression you want or need.
Different brands of compression gloves provide different amounts of compression. The amount of compression that any particular glove provides depends on various factors. These factors include the amount of elastane that is incorporated into the material of the glove, your hand size and shape, and how the glove fits your hands. Keep in mind that tighter is not necessarily better in this case.
Some people find that arthritis compression gloves make their hands hot and itchy, especially when they wear them at night. This could do the opposite of what you want by disturbing your sleep instead of enhancing it. Compression gloves, especially if they are too tight, could cause pins and needles, numbness, or discoloration of your fingertips. Some people have also found that compression gloves made their symptoms worse. These adverse effects are most likely to occur if you wear the gloves for long periods – like when you sleep.
Because compression gloves are designed to fit snugly, any stitching or seams that are inside the gloves could create pressure points and make wearing them uncomfortable. To remedy this, you could wear your compression gloves inside out. Alternatively, look for a pair that is seamless or that has the seam on the outside.
Any additional health concerns.
Compression gloves could exacerbate symptoms in persons who have carpal tunnel syndrome, psoriasis, or Raynaud’s phenomenon. The gloves may be too tight around the wrist to be worn by persons who have carpal tunnel syndrome. Persons with carpal tunnel syndrome may benefit from wearing a wrist brace instead. Similarly, the pressure provided by compression gloves could restrict blood flow too much for persons with Raynaud’s phenomenon. Someone who has psoriasis or other skin conditions could find the gloves to be uncomfortable. It is best to consult with your doctor or in home care provider before using compression gloves.
You will likely be wearing your compression gloves often. They will inevitably need to be washed, especially if you wear them while doing outdoor activities or if your hands tend to sweat while you wear them. Look for compression gloves that are easy to wash and quick to dry. You may also consider purchasing more than one pair of compression gloves. In this case, you will always have a clean pair on hand, or you can designate a pair for outdoor use, like when you are gardening, and another to wear indoors.
You may only find out whether any particular pair of compression gloves improve your symptoms (or make them worse) after you have worn them for some time. This could potentially be problematic if you find that they are not ideal and wish to return them. Do some research on the return policy offered with your gloves before you purchase them.
Recommendations for wearing compression gloves.
Your doctor, physical therapist, or occupational therapist will be able to provide you with the best advice on when and how long you need to wear your compression gloves. Still, there are a few things that you can do to get the most benefit out of wearing arthritis gloves.
Read any accompanying instructions before you wear your gloves for the first time. Compression glove manufacturers may have directions or considerations that are specific to the gloves that you purchased.
Remember that compression gloves should fit snug, but they should not be too tight. You may find that they could become looser over time or with extended use. In some cases, it is recommended that you replace your compression gloves every six months to continue benefiting from wearing them.
Wearing compression gloves could feel slightly restrictive. You may want to wear your new compression gloves for a few hours at a time when you first start using them. You can then slowly increase the amount of time that you have them on.
It is not recommended that you wear compression gloves the entire day and throughout the night (24 hours). Instead, wear them while doing activities where you expect to experience more uncomfortable symptoms. If you want to sleep with your compression gloves on, work up to that by wearing them for longer and longer periods throughout the day before you start wearing them to bed. This will help you get used to the feeling of wearing them and establish whether they will be comfortable to wear while sleeping, and promote better rest.
Compression gloves could be a beneficial supplemental treatment to promote pain relief and reduce stiffness and swelling caused by arthritis in your hands. Although many occupational therapists and rheumatologists prescribe compression gloves to their patients, they may not work for everyone.
While the warmth and gentle, uniform compression from the gloves could alleviate some arthritic symptoms, these gloves also function as a reminder for you to be careful with your hands. There are a variety of different compression gloves on the market. Some provide more compression, while others are infused with copper or provide additional heat. The very best compression gloves are ones that fit your hands snugly without restricting movement or circulation.