Posted on 18 Feb 2021
Recent research has looked into the effect of wearing compression gloves for those living with inflammatory arthritis. Inflammatory arthritis that affects your hands can have a great impact on your ability to complete regular household chores. Pain, swelling and stiffness may prevent you from doing everyday things like the dishes, laundry and gardening (among many other things).
What are compression gloves?
Compression gloves, sometimes referred to as arthritis gloves, apply pressure to the hands, increasing hand blood flow and hand temperature. These gloves are commonly made from thick, firm fabric containing Lycra and cover everything from your mid forearm to about ¾ of your fingers. Usually, the fingertips are exposed to allow you to use your fingers easily. Using compression gloves for an extended period of time can become very costly, as they commonly need to be replaced by a new pair every 4 to 6 months, or when they become too loose. Good quality compression gloves cost around £20/pair, if you buy them yourself.
Why wear compression gloves for arthritis?
Compression gloves are commonly prescribed to arthritis patients in the NHS with the intent of easing pain, reducing swelling, and improving function of the hands. They are also sometimes worn while sleeping, with the aim to reduce hand stiffness in the mornings.
A new study sheds light on how the effectiveness of arthritis gloves
A new randomised controlled clinical trial has found that the benefits achieved from wearing compression gloves for arthritis, are however, unlikely to be from the pressure they put on the hands. Researchers gave participants either an appropriately fitted popular brand of good quality compression gloves or a pair of gloves that were looser fitting and looked similar, but were made from a slightly thinner material. What was being tested here is whether the pressure from wearing real compression gloves (intervention group) truly contributes to improvements in symptoms of hand arthritis. If pressure is key to these effects, then wearing comparable gloves, without the pressure (control group) wouldn’t have the same benefits.
After 12 weeks of wearing either type of glove, the change in pain, stiffness and hand function measured by the researchers were not considered to be clinically significant. Both types of gloves led to very similar, but only very small, benefits. Incredibly, both groups reported nearly identical levels of improved satisfaction, positive feelings that the gloves helped with hand symptoms and that warmth from wearing gloves was especially helpful. More than ⅔ of participants in both groups reported that they enjoyed wearing the gloves and were benefitting from the increased warmth and comfort. Surprisingly, half of the participants who used the well-fitted compression gloves reported negative effects, such as numb fingertips, a sensation of pins and needles or the feeling of being hot and itchy while sleeping. In the control group, however, only ⅓ of participants reported these types of negative effects.
What do these results mean?
On aversage, neither type of glove made a big difference to hand symptoms and hand function. Although participants in both groups reported positive effects after wearing the gloves, these improvements are likely a result of the added warmth and feeling of support they felt. This is contrary to what was believed, which is that the increased pressure from wearing compression gloves is the “active ingredient.” Due to these findings, the researchers who conducted this study also did a thorough cost analysis for the prescription of compression gloves within the NHS and have called for guidelines around compression gloves for arthritis to be reviewed.
Is buying brand-name compression gloves worth the cost?
Whether you have used compression gloves in the past, or are looking for new solutions for arthritis hand pain, it is likely that regular ¾ finger length gloves (e.g. light wool, cotton or nylon with some Lycra in), will give you just as many benefits as firm-fitting, brand-name compression gloves.
Hammond, A., Prior, Y., Cotterill, S. et al. Clinical and cost effectiveness of arthritis gloves in rheumatoid arthritis (A-GLOVES): randomised controlled trial with economic analysis. BMC Musculoskelet Disord 22, 47 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12891-020-03917-8