Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can affect the hands, causing swelling, pain, and stiffness in the joints. Some myRAteam members have discussed wearing therapeutic compression gloves to help ease these symptoms and make everyday tasks easier. But if you’re like many members, you may be wondering if these gloves actually work — and, if they do, how they can help.
Arthritis gloves, also known as therapy gloves or compression gloves, are sometimes recommended by occupational therapists as a complementary treatment method for rheumatoid arthritis. According to a survey by the NHS Health Research Authority, 80 percent of rheumatology occupational therapists provide arthritis gloves to people with RA and inflammatory arthritis.
Many different types of these gloves are available. Thermal gloves, for instance, are designed to warm the hands, providing comfort and potentially alleviating RA pain. Other gloves may provide extra support or compression (pressure), pushing excess fluid out of the hands to reduce swelling. Compression seems to help reduce swelling and reduce some joint stiffness — particularly when a person is having an RA flare in the fingers and joints.
Ultimately, therapy gloves can serve as a complementary way of managing arthritis symptoms alongside your usual treatments. As with any complementary approach, they will not treat RA itself and cannot replace prescribed treatment or a doctor’s advice.
To date, there have been no large, randomized trials to support the use of arthritis gloves or to compare the efficacy of arthritis gloves with conventional medications. The A-GLOVES trial did not show a benefit from the use of arthritis gloves.
Research has been conducted on the effectiveness of therapy gloves for people with RA. One review assessed the results of eight such studies, using changes in participants’ hand function and hand symptoms to measure their outcomes.
According to the review, participants saw substantial improvement in their hand pain, stiffness, and swelling.
Despite these improvements, participants saw little to no improvement in their hand function as a result of using therapy gloves, aside from grip strength. Hand function, defined as “the ability to use the hand in every activity,” can have a significant impact on everyday tasks. As one myRAteam member shared, “I thought I would have to give up playing the piano because my fingers were so crooked.” Functional difficulties don’t just limit you from doing things you love, they can also make frequent tasks such as turning a doorknob, holding a cup, or brushing your teeth a painful challenge.
If you try therapy gloves, you may not see any improvements in your hand functioning or range of motion even as pain and swelling subsides. As the review ultimately noted, there is limited research providing measurable evidence of therapy gloves’ effectiveness for hand function. Little research has been done to identify what aspects of these gloves might be helpful to people with RA or which materials might be the most beneficial.
Some myRAteam members have found significant improvements in their RA symptoms after wearing arthritis gloves. “Love my compression gloves,” wrote one member. “I wear them every night.” Another simply liked the way the gloves feel, writing, “They give your hands a hug.”
As another member described, you may experience different benefits from wearing these gloves: “The compression gloves give me some relief from the pain, but mostly help reduce the swelling.”
Some members, however, find that their swelling is so severe they can’t wear arthritis gloves without discomfort. “I tried them, and they hurt my hands too much,” wrote one member, while another shared, “My hands are so swollen and bad with RA that the largest size won’t even fit.”
The following gloves come recommended by experts and myRAteam members. Talk to your rheumatologist before trying therapeutic gloves. They may recommend that you try or avoid a certain type of glove based on its particular benefits or features.
Thermoskin’s thermal compression gloves are made from a lightweight, insulating material that provides warming alongside compression. Several myRAteam members have reported trying these gloves. “I had to say, they are wonderful,” one wrote. “My hands have been stiff and painful for days. When I put these gloves on, there was instant relief. I don’t want to take them off.”
Another member found that these gloves were particularly helpful when crafting: “I want to work with thread and crochet, and my hands want to swell. I have these Thermoskin gloves. They are expensive but worth every penny. In the winter, I wear them under regular gloves.”
As a review in Therapeutic Advances in Musculoskeletal Disease reported, Isotoner’s therapeutic compression gloves were found to provide pain relief when worn overnight. These gloves provide moderate compression and are available in fingerless and full-finger styles.
The Arthritis Foundation’s Ease of Use Program has partnered with IMAK, whose arthritis gloves are designed to provide relief from hand stiffness, aches, and pains. These gloves provide mild compression, warming the hands and helping increase blood flow.
Vive’s arthritis gloves are recommended by CreakyJoints, which noted that the gloves’ “smart seam” design helps prevent irritation.
If your rheumatologist or occupational therapist recommends arthritis gloves, you should keep some things in mind for choosing a pair and wearing them properly.
When looking for arthritis gloves, make sure that they’re not too loose or too tight — gloves that don’t fit won’t provide you with their potential benefits. It may help to buy several different pairs of gloves (after ensuring you can return the ones that don’t work out) so you can see which are the most comfortable.
Wearing arthritis gloves during the day may help ease pain and swelling and make everyday tasks more comfortable. But you may need to wear them at night, as well. Generally, arthritis gloves should be worn for at least eight hours to see their full benefits.
Some gloves may not be right for you. You should remove arthritis gloves and contact your rheumatologist or occupational therapist if you experience:
Before trying any type of arthritis gloves, talk to your doctor. Some people may not be able to wear these gloves, such as those with carpal tunnel or Raynaud’s disease.
On myRAteam, more than 143,000 members come together to ask and answer questions, offer support, and share their stories of daily life with rheumatoid arthritis.
Have you tried arthritis gloves for hand pain or swelling? Let other members know what you think in the comments below or by posting on myRAteam.