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I Have Arthritis in My Hands. How Can I Lift Weights Without Pain?

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Updated October 02, 2009

Question: I Have Arthritis in My Hands. How Can I Lift Weights Without Pain?
Answer: Arthritis or pain in the hands can make it difficult for a number of activities that require gripping, including weight training. Pain and weakness in the hands and fingers may make it difficult to grip dumbbells or other types of weights, making strength training a painful and frustrating process.

Your first step in treating and managing arthritis is, of course, to see your doctor for a proper diagnosis and discussion about medications, exercises and other tools you can use to manage the pain. You should also get clearance to exercise and talk to your doctor about strength training. There have been numerous studies showing that strength training can significantly improve strength, pain and quality of life in people with different types of arthritis, including osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Alternatives to Dumbbells

If you find it difficult to hold weights because of pain or weaknesses, there are other alternatives to try:

  • Resistance Bands - Using resistance bands may allow you to hold the handles in the palms of your hands, keeping your fingers extended so that you don't have to grip the handles. This may not work for every exercise, so only choose moves you can safely do while keeping the hands open. Some ideas include: chest presses, one-arm flies, biceps curls, overhead presses, side steps, the butt blaster and lunges. More resistance band exercises.

  • A Medicine Ball - This is another great choice for adding resistance to your workouts without having to grip the small handle of a dumbbell. Medicine balls come in a variety of sizes and weights and you can hold them while doing exercises such as lunges, side lunges, crunches and biceps curls. You do need hand strength to hold the ball, particularly if you're doing one-handed exercises, so you might try a lighter weight at first (e.g., 3 to 5 lbs) and increase the weight gradually. More medicine ball exercises.

  • Weights with Handles - Another option is using a weight with handles such as smartbells. The handles are wider and you can grip the weight on either side, allowing you to distribute the weight more evenly over both hands.

  • Wrist Weights - If you find it difficult to challenge your muscles with a medicine ball or if the weights you're able to hold aren't heavy enough, adding wrist weights may be another option for adding intensity.

Sources:

Lie, D. Strength Training May Benefit Patients With Osteoarthritis. Arthritis Care Res. 2006;55:690-699.

Rall, L.; , Meydani, S.; Kehayias, J.; et al. The effect of progressive resistance training in rheumatoid arthritis. Increased strength without changes in energy balance or body composition. Arthritis & Rheumatism, Volume 39 Issue 3, Pages 415 - 426.

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