Exercise for Distal Interphalangeal Joint Pain

Close up hand pain with grass blurred background
Exercises may reduce pain in the joints at the ends of your fingers. (Image: Rutchapong/iStock/Getty Images)

Painful movement of the joints near the tips of your fingers or toes, or your distal interphalangeal joints, may result from injuries, rheumatoid arthritis and other conditions. Your distal interphalangeal joints, or DIP joints, are the joints found near the tips of your fingers and toes. Performing range-of-motion exercises may help increase flexibility to help alleviate pain in your DIP joints. However, perform DIP-joint exercises only under the supervision of your doctor or therapist.

Distal Interphalangeal Joint Conditions and Exercises

Your DIP joints allow you to bend and straighten your fingers and toes. Thus, attempting to move damaged DIP joints can result in pain. A pain-causing condition called mallet finger results from a damaged tendon at your DIP joint. Another painful condition that affects your DIP joint, known as mallet toe, causes your affected toe to bend abnormally; this may be caused by injury or wearing tight shoes. The Cleveland Clinic recommends range-of-motion exercises, or ROM exercises, for arthritic joints to help increase mobility and flexibility. These ROM exercises progressively flex and extend your DIP joints until you attain a normal ROM without pain. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons also recommends completing DIP-blocked exercises and DIP ROM exercises to relieve DIP-associated pain.

Joint-Blocking Exercises

Joint-blocking exercises prevent adjacent joints from moving as the affected joint flexes and extends. Perform one DIP-joint-blocking exercise by placing your hand palm-up on a table and using your other hand to stabilize the middle section of your affected finger -- just under the fingertip joint. While holding the rest of your finger straight, slowly bend and straighten only the end joint of your finger. Repeat this blocking exercise with each of your fingers and hold your desired position for three to five seconds before relaxing.

Range-of-Motion Finger Exercises

Several ROM exercises can increase mobility and decrease pain in your DIP finger joint that results from a mallet finger or other conditions. Complete one flexing exercise by using your unaffected hand to grasp the painful finger. Place your thumb on the top side of the affected finger below the top joint. Using your index finger, push only the tip of your finger up, until you feel a painless stretch. Complete this exercise on all of your fingers eight to 12 times.

Another ROM exercise involves extending your fingers. Place your affected hand flat on a table. Then, lift and lower one finger at a time off the table. Repeat this exercise eight to 12 times.

Mallet Toe Exercises

The ROM stretching exercises may help a painful mallet toe, in which the joint buckles leading to irritation on the skin at the tips of your toe. Cigna Healthcare recommends carefully pulling on your toes to stretch your deformed DIP joints in the opposite direction. For instance, if your toe bends up, gently stretch it down. Stretch one joint at a time until you feel an extended, slow, gentle pull. Complete this stretch several times in the morning and several times at night.

To stretch and increase strength in your mallet toe, place a towel under your feet and use your toes to crumple it. You can also increase flexibility through using your toes to pick up objects such as coins and marbles.

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