Stiff fingers may not be arthritis

A lady wrote to me recently to tell me that her fingers were stiff but medical tests didn’t find arthritis, so what could it be?

Through the years I’ve worked with many people who have been told they had arthritis when all it turned out to be was tight muscles preventing the joint from moving. It’s really logical when you think of how the muscle moves the joint in the first place.

The analogy I like to use when explain joint movement is to think of playing a game of tug-of-war. For our analogy, think that there is a knot in the middle of the rope and each side is trying to pull the knot toward them. If both sides are pulling equally hard the knot doesn’t move, but if one side is pulling harder than the other the knot will begin to move toward that side.

This is what happens to your spine, if the muscles on one side are pulling harder than the other side, the bone will move in that direction and the misalignment will put pressure on your spinal cord, causing pain and possibly even causing a bulging disk or nerve impingement.

When it is your joints, you have one muscle pulling you in one direction (in this case the muscles of your underside of your forearm are closing the fingers into a fist) and the opposing muscle needs to lengthen to allow the movement. Then, when you want to open your hand the muscles on the top of your forearm need to contract while the muscles on the underside of your forearm need to lengthen.

If either of these muscles, or in this woman’s case it was both sets of muscles, are tight, you can’t bend or open your hand easily. The both sets of muscles are in spasm and the knots have shortened the fibers so they can’t lengthen.

Since the tendons of the muscles on the underside of your forearm, called flexors, pass through your carpal tunnel, the tension can put pressure on your median nerve and you’ll be told you have carpal tunnel syndrome. However, all you actually have is tight muscles putting pressure on the nerve.

If you release the tension in the muscles your fingers will move smoothly, the pressure will be removed from your median nerve, and any symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome or arthritis will disappear.

Wishing you well,


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