Arthritis gloves are inexpensive and designed to reduce symptoms of arthritis, helping you perform day-to-day tasks such as participating in sport, writing, and using your phone. We take a look at what arthritis gloves are, what they do, and whether or not they actually work.
What Are Arthritis Gloves?
Arthritis gloves are designed for people living with any form of arthritis who suffer pain and discomfort in their hands. The small joints in the hands (and feet) are often among the joints most affected by arthritis, so any simple products that can help alleviate symptoms are worth checking out.
Occupational therapists often recommend the gloves to people living with arthritis, as well as people living with neuropathy who experience symptoms such as numbness, tingling, and pain in their hands.
Arthritis gloves are usually made from a mix of either Nylon or cotton and elastane (Lycra or Spandex) and are designed to offer warmth and/or compression. You may also hear them referred to ‘therapy gloves’, a term that usually also includes gloves that have splints designed to offer additional support.
There are plenty of different arthritis gloves on the market, some of which cover the whole hand and fingers and others that leave the top of your fingers exposed (fingertip or open-finger gloves). Deciding which gloves would be best for you largely depends on the nature of your symptoms and what you would like the gloves to do. Some people also have one pair that are more suited to summer and another, warmer pair, for winter days.
Unlike regular gloves, it is usually recommended that arthritis gloves should be worn for at least eight hours per day to be most effective. For people who don’t want to wear them for that long during the day, it is often recommended that arthritis gloves are worn overnight.
How Do Arthritis Gloves Work?
There are a few different ways arthritis gloves help ease symptoms of arthritis and provide support. The nature of your symptoms and what you want the glove to do will determine which pair (or pairs) are appropriate.
Heat is a tried and tested method for relieving symptoms of arthritis. The theory underpinning the use of heat treatment is that increasing the temperature of your skin and joints increases blood flow, dilates blood vessels, and helps relax muscles.
Many people will attest to the relief a warm bath, hot water bottle, or heating pads can provide.
Some arthritis gloves are designed to offer more warmth than others, which might make them more suitable for winter when symptoms are often at their worst.
Some gloves also claim to use infrared radiation to help increase the temperature of the tissue in your hands. In theory, bioceramic materials woven into fabrics can reflect far infrared rays and prevent them from being lost from the body, while also generating heat from external rays.
Although the effects of powered infrared therapy are well-established and it is used therapeutically (including in the treatment of arthritis and sports injuries), whether non-powered materials can generate enough heat from far-infrared rays (FIR) to make a noticeable difference is subject to some debate. The few studies (which are discussed below) investigating the potential benefit of such materials to people living with arthritis are inconclusive.
Nonetheless, Celliant (the brand name of the material used by a leading producer of FIR arthritis gloves, Venturo Therapy) is classed as a medical device under section 201(h) of the FDA’s Federal Food Drug & Cosmetic (FD&C) Act and is used by major sports firms such as Saucony and Reebok, suggesting there is at least some truth in the claims made by the manufacturers.
Aside from providing warmth, arthritis gloves are usually designed to offer compression as well. Like heat, compression is believed to improve blood flow and deliver more oxygen to body tissue. This is why compression clothing is widely used by athletes.
Compression therapy is a common on-invasive treatment for arthritis. IMAK, one of the leading brands of compression items designed for arthritis, has a range of products that have earned the Arthritis Foundation’s Ease of Use badge, including different types of gloves.
Compression clothes designed for sports can also prove beneficial in helping ease symptoms of arthritis. However, compression gloves aren’t typical items for sport. Additionally, arthritis gloves are designed to be worn for longer periods than sports gear.
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Whereas heat and compression are designed to ease the symptoms of arthritis and reduce swelling, some gloves are designed to offer more support and stability.
Thermoskin, another of the leading brands of arthritis gloves, offers a stabilizing glove that wraps around the wrist and thumb.
While such gloves may not be as warm as other arthritis gloves, they do usually provide some level of compression to help encourage blood flow.
Do Arthritis Gloves Really Work?
Anecdotal evidence suggests so. There is no shortage of testimonials online from people who claim arthritis gloves have helped relieve their symptoms.
On the more scientific end of the scale, most studies are cautiously optimistic about the effect such gloves can have. They tend to warn, however, that benefits may be modest and that arthritis gloves may not help everyone.
Here are summaries of a few of the studies, along with links should you wish to read them further:
- Therapy gloves for patients with rheumatoid arthritis: a review: This is a review of eight studies into the effectiveness of arthritis gloves, specifically regarding rheumatoid arthritis (RA). It concludes that arthritis gloves can help reduce pain, stiffness, and swelling in hand RA, although the specific mechanisms of action cannot be conclusively determined.
- The effects of compression gloves on hand symptoms and hand function in rheumatoid arthritis and hand osteoarthritis: a systematic review: Another review, this time analyzing studies that aimed to determine the specific effects of compression in gloves when worn at night, regarding both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. While it did note that some studies found a significant reduction in finger swelling, evidence regarding pain and stiffness were inconclusive. This, the authors say, is partly down to the poor quality of the studies and data.
- The effects of arthritis gloves on people with Rheumatoid Arthritis or Inflammatory Arthritis with hand pain: a study protocol for a multi-centre randomised controlled trial: A small study performed at the University of Salford in the UK found that arthritis patients did notice an improvement in symptoms, most of which was credited to heat rather than compression.
Regarding the infrared arthritis gloves mentioned above:
- Far infrared radiation (FIR): its biological effects and medical applications: This study into the effects of both heated and non-heated FIR suggests there is some credibility to the theory that non-heated (powered) gloves can provide benefit. It cites another study that investigated socks made of the same Celliant material, which appeared to reduce pain. However, it was a small sample and more evidence is needed to support the therapeutic impact FIR materials can have.
- Biological effects and medical applications of infrared radiation: Like the above study, this one is cautiously optimistic about the therapeutic qualities of FIR materials. It cites previous studies that have found such materials can elevate blood circulation and relieve the fatigue of soccer players. It seems likely – but is not yet proven – that these benefits would also apply to people living with arthritis.
Should You Buy Arthritis Gloves?
Given the low cost and low risk of arthritis gloves, it is easy to see why they are an attractive proposition to anyone living with arthritis and suffering symptoms in their hands and wrists. In fact, it is difficult to think of any reason against buying arthritis gloves.
While the above studies stop short of conclusively saying arthritis gloves work, they are generally positive and the theory underpinning the use of heat and compression to reduce the symptoms of arthritis is sounds and well-established.
Perhaps the biggest question is whether or not you buy gloves that offer the supposed benefits of infrared, given they are significantly more expensive than regular arthritis gloves (usually $40 to $50, rather than around $20 for regular arthritis gloves). Again, the theory underpinning the use of infrared rays in arthritis treatment is credible. Whether bioceramic materials can provide tangible therapeutic benefits, however, is not clear.
Your best bet is to speak to your doctor or occupational therapist about the nature of your symptoms and discuss which pair (or pairs) of arthritis gloves are best for you. It is also highly recommended that you try gloves on before making your purchase, as getting the fit right is important.
If you are prepared to wear arthritis gloves for the recommended eight hours per day/night, there is every chance they could improve your symptoms. Given the lack of risk and expense, what’s the harm in trying?
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