Swollen Hands: A Common Polymyalgia Symptom

Swollen hands are one of the symptoms that typically appear in patients with polymyalgia rheumatica. PMR patients develop fluid retention or swelling, not only of the hands but also of the ankles, wrists, and feet.

Swollen hands are one of the symptoms that typically appear in patients with polymyalgia rheumatica. PMR patients develop fluid retention or swelling, not only of the hands but also of the ankles, wrists, and feet.

Polymyalgia rheumatica is an inflammatory disease. Patients diagnosed with this disease experience muscle pain. They also suffer from morning stiffness in the neck, hips, and shoulders. Other polymyalgia rheumatica symptoms include weight loss, low fever, weakness, and tiredness.

A swollen hand accompanied by numbness due to an affected nerve is one of several polymyalgia rheumatica symptoms.

Swelling of the Hands

PMR patients with swollen hands feel pain and stiffness in the affected hand. This can cause a lot of problems affecting everyday activities. Stiffness in swollen hands can prevent movement of the hands for minutes. Numbness starts to be felt within a few weeks after acquiring PMR.

Limited Hand Mobility

Swollen hands significantly limit movement of the hands. They prevent a PMR patient from reaching over objects or picking items from the floor which he or she can easily do before. There are long stretches that cannot be done. Clenching fists and feeling pain extending to the wrist can be very annoying and frustrating. Grasping strength is also weakened. These constant and irritating discomforts are signs for the patient to seek medical help. An effective remedy to ease the pain caused by swollen hands should be taken immediately.


Fluid retained in the swollen hand can exert pressure on the nerves of the hands. It can extend through the forearm and elbow. The nerve that is affected is the ulnar nerve, the largest unprotected nerve. The ulnar nerve runs near the ulnar bone. It is directly linked to the little finger of our hands and the nearby half of the ring hand. The ulnar nerve extends to the palmar sides of the fingers as far back to the fingernail beds.

Polymyalgia Rheumatica Treatments

Wearing gloves and taking painkillers can only provide temporary relief. That is why it is very important to take advice from a specialist. A rheumatologist will prescribe the right medicine and dosage to relieve the pain and the swelling of the affected hands.

A medium up to a high dose of steroid drugs will help reduce or end the symptoms of PMR. Doctors will prescribe an effective dose for weeks until pain tapers. Dosage will be reduced and eventually stopped. The steroid drug Prednisone can scale down pain from PMR swollen hands to a minor ache.


Steroids are very effective in reducing swelling or inflammation not only with swollen hands but also with swollen feet due to PMR. Medication works fast, usually within two to three days.

Treatment for PMR can last for one or two years. Stopping steroids intake too soon will allow PMR symptoms to recur. In this case, steroids can be restarted and most of the time still provide good results.

When no good results are happening within a week, it only means that polymyalgia diagnosis of the patient may be incorrect. Symptoms may be due to another illness if steroids do not work. The patient needs to go back to his or her rheumatologist. Blood tests and imaging are needed for correct diagnosis.

2 thoughts on “Swollen Hands: A Common Polymyalgia Symptom”

  1. I’ve been diagnosed with PMR for two years now. I am a type 2 diabetic and prednisone sends my glucose levels into the high 300’s and even onto the 400’s.
    Between my endocrinologist and my rheumatologist, I am not prescribed prednisone.
    I have been on a once a weekly injection of Actemra for over a year along with Methotrexate. I had to stop taking Methotrexate due to the side effect of tears in my stomach and vomiting during every meal. The Actemra has also slowed any real pain relief and my hands, palms, wrists and fingers are in constant pain and stay swollen. No hand strength and can barely make a fist due to so much pain. Just got out of the hospital after a three day stay due to acute pancreatitis, which is a side effect from Actemra. I was scheduled an appointment on March 26th, 2020 with a new rheumatologist in The Woodlands, Texas but was cancelled due to COVID-19 Now, I have no idea when I will be rescheduled for my new rheumatologist for a second opinion.
    I am the only patient my current rheumatologist see’s being diagnosed with Polymyalgia Rheumatica & Giant Cell Arteritis. I truly can’t do any work around my house due to loss of muscle and severe pain. Even in my knees and legs and shoulders.

  2. Richard
    I have similar issues. Five yars ago when i retired from work at 65 I had an annual physical and received an injection to prevent shingles. Suddenly this pain of shoulders hands and wrists came on. After a year of extensive swimming and careful diet it apparently went away. About a month ago i took a trip to Alaska where i contracted COVID even though I’ve been vaccinated twice and have a booster. Any thoughts? My hands wrists and shoulders are especially painful.


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