Inflammatory Arthritis

Compression Gloves for Arthritis of the Hands: Are They Worth it?

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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, resulting in a raised temperature and an increase in blood flow. These gloves are commonly made from thick, firm fabric and cover everything from your mid forearm to about ¾ of your fingers. Usually, the fingertips are exposed to allow for full functionality of the hand. 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 several weeks, or when they become too loose.

Why wear compression gloves for arthritis?

Compression gloves are commonly prescribed to arthritis patients with the intent of easing pain, reducing swelling, and to improve 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 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) shouldn’t  yield the same benefits. 

The results

After 12 weeks of wearing the gloves, the changes in hand function and symptoms measured by the researchers were not considered to be clinically significant compared to not wearing gloves at all. Incredibly, both groups reported nearly identical levels of improved satisfaction, including a reduction in both pain and feelings of stiffness. More than ⅔ of all participants 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 adverse 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 adverse effects. 

What do these results mean?

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 has been believed, which is that the increased pressure from wearing compression gloves is contributing to enhanced hand function. 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 will give you just as many benefits as tight fitting, brand-name compression gloves.

Sources

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

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