Exercise for Distal Interphalangeal Joint Pain

Stretching can help with joint pain.
Image Credit: Peter Cade/Stone/GettyImages

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 toe or finger DIP joint pain. However, perform DIP-joint exercises only under the supervision of your doctor or therapist.

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Read more: Finger Dexterity Exercises

Understand the Cause

Your DIP joints allow you to bend and straighten the last joint of your fingers and toes. This means that attempting to move injured DIP joints can result in pain.

A pain-causing condition called mallet finger results from a damaged tendon at your DIP joint, as explained by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

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Another condition that causes distal interphalangeal joint pain in the toe, 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.

1. Joint-Blocking Exercises

Joint-blocking exercises, as demonstrated by Kaiser Permanente, prevent adjacent joints from moving as the affected joint flexes and extends.

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  1. 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.
  2. While holding the rest of your finger straight, slowly bend and straighten only the end joint of your finger.
  3. Repeat this blocking exercise with each of your fingers and hold your desired position for three to five seconds before relaxing.

2. Range-of-Motion Exercises

Several range-of-motion (ROM) exercises can increase mobility and decrease pain in your DIP joints as part of your distal interphalangeal joint injury treatment.

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Move 1: Finger Flexion

  1. Grasp the painful finger with your unaffected hand.
  2. Place your thumb on the top side of the affected finger below the top joint.
  3. Using your index finger, push only the tip of your finger up, until you feel a painless stretch.
  4. Complete this exercise on all of your fingers eight to 12 times.

Move 2: Finger Extension

  1. Place your affected hand flat on a table.
  2. Lift and lower one finger at a time off the table.
  3. Repeat this exercise eight to 12 times.

Read more: How to Stop Foot Pain With 7 Easy Exercises

Move 3: Passive Stretching

  1. Hold the tip of your finger or toe with your opposite hand.
  2. Gently stretch bend the joint until you feel a stretch.
  3. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat three times.
  4. Complete this stretch several times in the morning and several times at night.

Move 4: Toe Towel Curls

  1. Sit with your feet on the ground.
  2. Place a small towel on the ground in front of your foot.
  3. Curl your toes and slowly move the towel toward you.
  4. Repeat for the length of the towel.
  5. Repeat three times.

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Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911. If you think you may have COVID-19, use the CDC’s Coronavirus Self-Checker.
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