The joints of our hands are some of the most used and abused joints in our body. Little surprise then that they are very prone to the wear and term form of Arthritis known as Osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis is characterized by the erosion, or in advanced cases complete destruction, of the protective layer of cartilage coating the bones inside joints. Without this layer the bones are in direct contact, and can thus grind together when in use.  This grinding away of bone within joints results in symptoms of pain, inflammation, swelling, heat, stiffness, weakness and deformity.

Doctors are able to offer little help to those suffering from this painful condition beyond prescribing pain and anti-inflammatory medications. We do not as yet have medication that can regrow the eroded cartilage between the bones.

Since we can’t fix the problem the focus needs to be on protecting the vulnerable joints from further damage, avoiding aggravation of symptoms and adopting aids and strategies to complete daily tasks.

In the case of arthritis in the tiny joints of the hands, fingers and thumb severe damage can be done and symptoms aggravated by even normal household tasks like opening a jar or carrying a suitcase. Care must be taken to avoid forceful or awkward use of the hands. Here are some examples of how to manage your arthritic hands in everyday tasks:

1.  Opening jars, especially breaking the vacuum seal when opening the jar for the first time, exerts damaging sideways forces on the fingers and thumb.  Avoid this by using gadgets like the Brix Jar Key which allows the user to pop open the jar to break the vacuum seal without damaging the lid. For opening unsealed jars numerous other aids are available. Aids are also available for bottles including for safety bottles which require the lid to be pushed down and squeezed in to open.

2.  Turning keys in locks puts a lot of force through the joints of the thumb and index finger. Ensure your locks are well maintained and consider a Key Turner.

3.  Avoid holding onto shopping bags, handbags or luggage with a ‘hook’ grip. Hang handles over forearm, use backpacks or trolleys instead.

4.  Cutting and carving when preparing food can also be very hard on the thumb and index finger as these two digits do most of the work of gripping the knife. Keep knives sharp to minimize the force needed in cutting and consider ‘power grip’ knives, or using sprung loaded/self opening kitchen scissors to cut instead of a knife.

5.  Turning taps on and off can also create damaging sideways forces on fingers, thumb and wrist, especially when people with strong grips were the last to turn them off, or where taps are in poor repair. Consider installing lever taps, or if your budget doesn’t stretch that far, purchase some cheap tap turning devices.

6. Keep the thumbs on the outside of the steering wheel when driving.

7. Use foam tubing on eating utensils, pencils, toothbrushes for a more comfortable grip e.g. Theratubing or pipe insulating material. Bubblewrap secured with tape will also do the trick.

8. Be careful with ring pulls on cans. Use a fork or a J-hook to lever open. Consider electric can openers for standard cans.

9. Use a long handled shoe horn for donning and doffing shoes. Also consider elastic shoelaces which can remain tied up when using a shoehorn the to don shoes.

10. Consider the use of arthritis gloves to warm, protect and stabilize the joints.

Some of the products mentioned in this article are available from Amazon. Click on the item(s) below for more information or to order online:

A Thumb (Finger) Mouse

Referred to as a “finger mouse” or “thumb mouse”, this device is a good alternative to the traditional mouse for those with shoulder conditions as it allows you to operate the mouse with the shoulder in a neutral ‘resting’ posture.

Additionally, the mouse allows the forearm (45 degrees of pronation), wrist and fingers to maintain a neutral “resting” position. Thus, the risk of developing Carpal Tunnel Syndome (CTS) is likely to be reduced, and/or the symptoms of CTS reduced. (more…)

Few people today use their computer exclusively for wordprocessing and most of us spend hours each day chasing a small cursor around the screen. For the majority of compuer users this is achieved by operating a mouse with their dominant (favoured) hand.

Traditional mouse operation is very taxing on the muscles, nerves, ligaments and joints of the wrist, elbow and in particular the shoulder. The extent to which one or all of these three joints is affected by mouse operation depends not only on predisposing factors (old injuries, genetics, smoking etc) but also the “mousing technique” of the person. (more…)

If you are in musculoskeletal pain, the first thing is that you should be applying something, either heat or cold, to the area. The reasons why are complex, but to make it very simple here is the rule of thumb:

If the area is swollen, hot to touch, or red (i.e the signs of inflammation) then apply cold NOT heat. For example you have tripped and torn a ligament in your knee.

Generally acute injuries requiring immediate medical attention need cold therapy. See various other websites for the “RICE” ( Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation) procedure for the management of acute injuries.

If there is no swelling, heat or redness i.e. the area is not actively inflammed then apply heat.