Michelle Pepper, M.D.
Marshall Emig, M.D.
Vaheed Sevvom, PA-C
Christopher Morelli, D.O.
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Getting the Upper Hand with Arthritis:
Hand Care Tips
According to the Arthritis Foundation, 46 million Americans live with arthritis or chronic joint symptoms. Arthritis symptoms limit everyday activities such as dressing, bathing and cooking for more than 7 million Americans. Half of those Americans with arthritis aren't aware of options that are now available to help alleviate their symptoms. The most common forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint condition, in which the joint cartilage deteriorates resulting in pain and loss of movement when bone begins rubbing against bone. Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, is an autoimmune disease in which the joint lining becomes inflamed as part of the body's immune system response. Rheumatoid arthritis is one of the most serious and disabling types and affects mostly women. Arthritis can affect all joints, including the small joints of the hand.
Your hands are constantly on the go. Everyday activities such as preparing a meal, woodworking, carrying grocery bags or using your computer, can damage your joints over time. Joint protection techniques can help reduce pain, stress and inflammation of your joints. These techniques can also help prevent further deformities and increase your independence in daily activities. There are many easy and inexpensive ways to protect your hands. Here are a few tips to keep your hands healthy:
Give your Hands a Break
- If you have pain during an activity, stop the activity. Pain is one of the best ways your body has of letting you know that you are causing tissue damage, so listen to and respect your pain.
- Protect the small joints of your hands and avoid carrying several plastic grocery bags at once to save time. Use paper bags, carry them one at a time and hold them at the bottom instead of using the handles.
- If writing is painful, try using a thick, rubber grip pen with a gel tip or roller ball to decrease the amount of pressure used.
- Remember to stretch and take breaks every 15 minutes during repetitive or prolonged activities such as needlework, painting, sewing, knitting and crocheting, hammering and filing.
- Figure out which activities aggravate your symptoms and avoid or modify them. Don't be afraid to ask others for help.
- Use pump shampoos, conditioners and toothpaste. Use the palm of your hand to pump instead of squeezing the container.
- Use enlarged grips on every day equipment or tools to reduce strain on your joints, e.g potato peelers, gardening tools, tooth brushes, hair brushes or build up the handle with foam.
- Keep scissors and knives sharp to minimize your own effort.
- Always use two hands when lifting heavy objects. A gallon of milk weighs about 8 pounds, and lifting it with only your fingertips places excessive stress on your joints.
Don't Use your Hand as a Tool
- Don't tear your mail open - use a letter opener to open mail.
- Use utility scissors in the kitchen - do not rip open bags.
- Always use the right tool for the job - use pliers for tight pinch and a small hammer for pounding.
- Use a staple remover instead of your fingers and thumb.
- Get rid of your manual can opener - go electric! Manual can openers place excessive strain on your fingers and thumb.
- Instead of holding open books or magazines with one hand, use a book stand or holder to bring the book to eye level, and a book clip or "chip" clip to avoid prolonged gripping.
Use Adaptive Equipment to Decrease Stress on your Joints
- Use devices to hold objects so that you don't have to, e.g. a vice, cutting board with picks to hold food, etc.
- Use foam to enlarge small diameter objects such as paring knives, cutlery, toothbrushes, paint brushes, pens and pencils
- Purchase lightweight kitchen, gardening and workshop tools with built-up handles.
- Opening jars places undue stress on your joints - use a non-slip jar opener.
- If you have pain when using keys to open doors, consider adding a key extender to your keys.
- If you have difficulty opening door knobs or faucets, purchase door knob or water faucet handle extenders.
- Consider a card holder if you play cards for extended periods of time.
- Perform a search on the Internet for "adaptive equipment" to see what products are available.
When Symptoms Become Severe
If you have already tried these techniques but you are still experiencing symptoms, it might be time to consider other treatment options, such as hand therapy. Certified Hand Therapists are either occupational or physical therapists with specialized training in the treatment of hand and upper extremity conditions. Hand therapy can play an important role in the management of arthritis; long term benefits include reducing pain, increasing motion and strength and improving overall function. If you believe your condition is more serious and you would benefit from hand therapy, contact your physician and request a referral.
No matter what you're doing, take a moment to think about your hands; you'll be rewarded with happier and healthier hands. Your hands work hard for you, so treat them with love.
Written by: Molly Stauffer, OT