By Karol S. Young, OTD, OTR/L, CHT
This time of year, you may be busy either working in the yard or doing chores around the home. When you finally take a break, you may notice stiffness, pain or weakness in your hands which limits your ability to grip tightly. If you experience this, you may have osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is commonly seen in the hand and occurs when the cartilage between bones becomes thin or worn out. This keeps the bones from moving smoothly and may cause a change in appearance of joints along with pain. Osteoarthritis in the hand is usually caused by wear and tear. Other risk factors include age, gender, injury and family history.
The good news is that when you modify your activities and make a conscious effort to protect the joints in your hand, you can minimize your pain from osteoarthritis. Here are a few tips to follow. Whenever possible, use larger joints rather than the small joints in your hand. For example, carry a bag on your shoulder with a shoulder strap rather than clutching a handle with your fingers. When lifting heavy objects or performing tight gripping, use two hands instead of one. Avoid putting stress on your hands by reducing the effort and force that you use when holding or grasping objects. Do not use your hands as a tool, rather find a tool that will assist with activities such as opening jars and weeding the garden. Additionally, make sure that you take frequent rest breaks, pace yourself, ask for help and respect your pain.
If you continue to have pain in your hands, you may benefit from a referral to a certified hand therapist who will help determine what will work for your pain and stiffness. Your therapist may suggest resting or positional splints, adaptive equipment to assist with performing a specific task, or a specialized exercise program to keep your hands strong and moving.
Karol Young is a certified Hand Therapist and Occupational Therapist at St. Luke’s Hospital Rehabilitation Center, Columbus.
Photo Cutline: Karol Young