Knuckle Pain: Cause, Treatment, and Home Remedies

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Knuckle pain
Credit: iStock.com/Alobeti

Knuckle pain happens to everyone and has numerous causes and side effects. From the index finger to the middle finger, any digit on your hand may become painful and swollen.

Knuckle pain can result from damaged skin or joints, as well as underlying issues with your bones, blood vessels, and connective tissues.

Luckily, many of these causes can be treated medically or even with home remedies like compresses and Epsom salt baths.

In this article, we will explore knuckle pain causes in detail, including the related symptoms to watch out for and the possibilities for treatment both medical and natural. Prevention tips may also help you get your knuckle pain under control so that there is no swelling in the future.

What Causes Knuckle Pain?

Like many types of pain, pain in the knuckles can be triggered by multiple factors. Your knuckle pain could simply be caused by an injury or a more complicated condition such as rheumatoid arthritis. Here are some of the more common types of causes of painful knuckles.

1. Injury

Your knuckles are in an area of the body that is frequently in use. As a result, the knuckles can get injured very easily. It may be something as simple as a bruise from a whack against a banister, or you might have accidentally closed a car door on your hand, causing index finger knuckle pain. Repetitive movement can also cause knuckle injury. Injuries can cause instant knuckle pain, but they can also damage the knuckle, creating a breeding ground for issues later on that can also trigger knuckle pain.

2. Infection

Occasionally, bacteria or a virus can enter the body through an open wound and cause an infection. This includes the knuckles. The infections that can cause pain in knuckles include impetigo (infection of the skin), septic arthritis (infection of the joints), erysipelas, osteomyelitis (infection of the bones), and cellulitis (infection of the subcutaneous tissue).

3. Inflammation

Inflammation of all sorts can cause finger joint pain, and it is not limited to inflammation of the joint itself. Myositis, for example, is the inflammation of muscle tissue, and inclusion-body myositis, in particular, affects the knuckle joints. The joints can also be affected by what happens to the surrounding tendons. Tendonitis, the inflammation of the tendons, can also cause swollen knuckles.

Osteoarthritis can cause the wearing down of the cartilage between the joints of the knuckle, which can subsequently cause pain. Gout is the buildup of uric acid crystals, and can often cause painful and swollen finger joints. Rheumatoid arthritis is another common autoimmune condition that causes inflammation of the joints and knuckles.

4. Disease

There are a number of diseases that can cause pain in the knuckles. Diabetes can cause stiffness, swelling, and pain in the joints. In the case of diabetes, this knuckle pain may come and go or it might become a semi-permanent issue. Peripheral neuropathy is a disease that can cause nerve damage to your hands. This nerve damage can often cause knuckle pain.

Thromboangiitis obliterans is a condition that can cause pain in the knuckle, as it blocks blood flow and blood vessels from making their way to the hand. Raynaud’s disease, specifically, reduces the blood supply to the knuckles, which can often cause pain.

Knuckle Pain Symptoms

Whether it is thumb knuckle pain or knuckle pain in the middle finger, knuckle pain symptoms are pretty straightforward.

Pain is the easiest symptom to recognize. Depending on the condition that is actually causing the knuckle issues, the pain can range from dull and achy to sharp and extremely painful. Stiffness in the joints often accompanies knuckle pain, making it hard to move the fingers. The third most common issue when it comes to knuckle pain is swelling. If the knuckles are aggravated, they can become swollen, which in turn, can add to the stiffness and pain in the knuckles themselves.

Treatment for Knuckle Pain

Because knuckle pain has so many possible causes and a number of different symptoms, you may wonder if there are any ways to treat it. There are medical treatments that can be used to treat knuckle pain. The first and foremost option for finger joint pain treatment is to target the cause of the knuckle pain. If the cause is curable, curing the infection, inflammation, etc. will usually eliminate the knuckle pain as well.

In cases where the root cause has no cure, maintenance of knuckle pain can be achieved through a few methods:

1. Injections

A corticosteroid injection can often be used to relieve inflammation in the knuckle from various causes. This method can be quite effective, with its effects lasting anywhere from six months to a year. The one drawback to consider is that some patients feel that the injection’s effects may diminish with each treatment.

2. NSAIDs

NSAIDs, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, are often used for management, as they can block the enzymes that cause pain and swelling in the knuckles. NSAIDs can include oral drugs like ibuprofen and topical drugs like diclofenac. Take note that excessive or constant use of ibuprofen can lead to side effects such as stomach bleeding, liver damage, ulcers, and increased risk of heart attacks.

Home Remedies for Knuckle Pain

For those who fear that medications may lose their effectiveness or are worried about potential side effects, there are a number of home remedies that could help relieve some of the issues of knuckle pain.

1. Hot and Cold Compress

Like sore and swollen muscles, sore knuckles can often be treated with a simple hot and cold compress regime. First, apply a cold compress to the knuckles that are sore for 10 to 20 minutes. Follow this with a warm compress for the same amount of time. The cold compress helps to relieve swelling and numb the pain, while the hot compress gets blood flow circulating into the knuckle areas to help promote healing of any damage or inflammation.

2. Hand Exercises in Heated Rice

Take a bowl that is microwavable and large enough to hold your open hand. Fill the bowl with uncooked white rice. Microwave the bowl until the rice is very warm or hot (not scalding, however, as you do not want to damage your hands).

Submerge your hand in the hot rice and begin to open and close it. This movement in the rice will help promote blood circulation in the knuckles as well as help loosen up the knuckles.

3. Epsom Salt Bath

Epsom salt baths have long been used to help loosen up tired and strained muscles, ligaments, and joints. Dropping a couple of tablespoons of Epsom salts into a warm bath can help reduce inflammation and pain in the knuckles. You can also use the same method in a hand soak. Furthermore, you can dissolve Epsom salts in warm oil and massage it onto your knuckles and hands for relief.

4. Eat Flavonoid-Rich Foods

Flavonoid-rich foods can help with knuckle pain. Flavonoids are plant compounds that may be very good at helping to reduce inflammation in the entire body, including your knuckles. The following are foods you may want to add to your diet or increase your current consumption of.

• Red or purple grapes
• Red apples
• Berries
• Tomatoes
• Cherries
• Plums
• Citrus fruits
• Broccoli
• Red onion
• Leafy greens

Preventing Knuckle Pain

Your hands and knuckles are like any other parts of your body. The better they are maintained, the less likely they are to become hurt or damaged. This can be done through simple workplace techniques. Is your desk ergonomic? If you have a job where you type all day, have you checked your keyboard position?

Depending on your desk, moving the position of your keyboard and mouse may be able to help you prevent knuckle strain and pain. A splint may also be useful if you use a computer for long periods of time.

Hand exercises are also a great idea, as they can keep your fingers and joints limber and promote good circulation in your knuckles and hands.

Potential Complications of Knuckle Pain

Knuckle pain alone may not be that big of a deal. Unfortunately, the cause behind that knuckle pain may have much bigger implications. Left untreated, some of the diseases and infections that are causing the knuckle pain may spread to other parts of the body. They may also do irreversible damage to the knuckles. Some potential complications of knuckle pain are:

• Widespread infection
• Joint deformity and destruction
• Gangrene
• Sepsis (potentially fatal bacterial blood infection)
• Metastasis of cancer
• Necrosis (death) of tissues

When to See a Doctor for Knuckle Pain

With all of these potential side effects, complications, and pain, at what point should you see a doctor? You should definitely seek medical advice if the following occur:

• Recurring pain: the pain is persistent and does not go away, or the pain and swelling reoccur on a regular basis

• Recent trauma: knuckles begin to swell and ache following trauma to the hand; the swelling may be caused by the injury or a related infection

• Infection: knuckles are swollen due to infection or you suspect the area has become infected; the infection may worsen or spread to other areas

Sore Knuckles Can Make You Sore All Over

Sore knuckles are one of those painful conditions that can occur among many of us for many different reasons. The key is to find out why the knuckle pain has occurred and get it treated as soon as possible. Mild inflammation or strains may be easily corrected with hand exercises and dietary changes, but more serious health issues, like arthritis in knuckles, cancers, or infections, may require immediate medical treatment.

Related Articles:

Broken Knuckle: Causes and How to Treat a Fractured Knuckle

Swollen Hands in the Morning: Causes and Treatments

How Castor Oil Can Help Relieve Joint Pain

Sprained Fingers: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments


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