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 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. Your hands are constantly on the go. Everyday activities such as preparing a meal, woodworking, carrying grocery bags, or using your computer may damage your joints over time. Fortunately, joint protection techniques may help reduce pain, stress, and inflammation. These techniques may 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 you are causing tissue damage, so listen to and respect your pain.
- If writing is painful, try using a thick, rubber grip pen with a gel tip or roller ball to decrease the amount of pressure.
- 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.
- 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 handles with foam.
- Keep scissors and knives sharp to minimize 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 pinching and a small hammer for pounding.
- Use a staple remover instead of your fingers and thumb.
Use Adaptive Equipment to Decrease Stress on your Joints
- 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.
- 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 are still experiencing symptoms, it might be time to consider a consult with an orthopedic specialist. Gregory Farino, MD, a Board Certified/Fellowship Trained hand and wrist specialist at Sarasota Orthopedic Associates, can help you with providing an accurate diagnosis as well as treatment options.
In the initial stages of arthritis, conservative management provided by a hand therapist may be all you need. Hand therapists can fabricate splints to support and protect the joints, recommend home exercises to improve strength in the small muscles of the hand, and educate you on pain management techniques.
If the arthritic process or your pain and stiffness is more severe, treatments like oral and topical medications or a cortisone shot may help relieve pain and improve mobility and strength. If conservative measures are not successful, surgery may be recommended. Joint replacement or joint fusion surgery has been consistently successful for both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
The hand and wrist team at Sarasota Orthopedic Associates is here to help you manage hand arthritis and stay as active as possible. We have four locations (Sarasota, Lakewood Ranch, Venice, and Bradenton) and offer same day appointments when necessary. Call us at 941-951-2663 for an appointment or visit our website at www.SOA.md for more information.
Note: Article written by Gregory Farino, MD, a Fellowship Trained and Board Certified Orthopedic Surgeon with a specialty in hand and wrist and Sangeetha Bulusu, OT, CHT, CLT (Occupational Therapist, Certified Hand Therapist, Certified Lymphedema Therapist). Both are available to see patients at Sarasota Orthopedic Associates.