So-called “pain-relief golf gloves” and other similar “arthritis gloves” have been a fixture in in-flight catalogs for years, and now they’re all over the Internet, advertised to soothe joint and muscle pain by providing compression. Some vibrate for supposed extra effect. And some claim added benefits from “copper-infused” material.
It has been proposed that anything that exerts compression on the hands may benefit people with arthritis by reducing swelling, improving blood flow, and increasing warmth—which is why occupational therapists and other health professionals may recommend “therapy gloves” to some arthritis patients. The gloves are also marketed for people with tendinitis and other hand problems or injuries.
A 2016 paper in Clinical Rehabilitation reviewed four small, short-term studies that investigated the effect of wearing compression gloves at night, compared to placebo gloves or usual treatment, in a total of 74 people with arthritis. The studies reported small reductions in finger joint swelling in people with rheumatoid arthritis, but they were not of high quality, and it’s unknown if the benefit was clinically meaningful. Results were inconclusive for pain and stiffness. No benefits were noted in the one study that included people with hand osteoarthritis.
As the paper concluded, “evidence for compression gloves’ effects on hand symptoms and function in rheumatoid arthritis and hand osteoarthritis is inconclusive.”
Though no side effects were found, the authors noted concerns that compression gloves may exacerbate symptoms in people with carpal tunnel syndrome or Raynaud’s syndrome (a blood vessel disorder in which the fingers become cold and numb). Other contraindications include skin problems.
An earlier review of studies in Therapeutic Advances in Musculoskeletal Disease in 2014 found that people with rheumatoid arthritis who wore the gloves had reductions in hand pain, stiffness, and swelling, but only marginal improvement, at best, in hand function. The studies had methodological flaws, however.
If there are any benefits, more and better studies are needed to determine what pressure level is best and how the fit, design, construction, material, thermal properties, and comfort of the gloves all factor in.
What about the copper infused into some of the gloves? Though copper has long been touted for its alleged pain-relieving properties, there’s no good evidence that it provides any such benefit. In fact, Tommie Copper, a major manufacturer of copper-infused compression clothing, agreed in 2015 to pay $1.35 million to settle charges filed by the FTC that it falsely claimed in ads that the garments relieved the pain and inflammation of arthritis and other conditions.
Bottom line: There’s no harm in trying a pair of simple compression gloves (about $10 to $30) if you have arthritis and no contraindications. Whether it’s the compression, just the warmth they provide, or a placebo effect, if you feel better, they are worth using. Don’t spend extra for fancy gloves or copper-infused ones, though.