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How are wrists and hands affected by arthritis?

Any joint in your fingers, thumbs, knuckles, and wrists can be affected by arthritis. Many different types of arthritis can affect your hands and cause joint pain, swelling and stiffness. People with hand arthritis often find their grip weakens and it becomes harder to do fine movements, such as turning a key or tying shoelaces.

How can I protect (rest) my sore hands?

The first thing to do is to become more aware of how you are using your sore joints. For example, try watching how you make a hot drink. What is happening to your wrist and fingers as you turn on the tap or lift a heavy kettle? Does it cause pain? Try to think of another way of doing this activity which will reduce those aches and strains. You might try picking up the kettle with two hands. Or use a tap turner to make it easier to grip the tap. These are examples of ‘joint protection’. It doesn’t mean you should stop using your joints. It just means that you should use them differently to reduce the amount of stress going through your joints.

Here are some ways to protect the joints in your hands:

  • Take notice of pain – it can serve as a warning that your joints are being overworked. Rather than giving up an activity altogether, try taking regular rests during the activity and learning ways to manage pain You will usually find you can still do the things you enjoy without discomfort.
  • Use larger, stronger joints – for example, carry your shopping bags over your shoulder rather than in your hands.
  • Spread the load over several joints – try carrying things with two hands.
  • Reduce the effort you have to put in – there is a wide range of labour-saving tools and equipment available. Buy pre-cut vegetables and meat to make cooking easier.
  • Avoid gripping things tightly – find out about gadgets that can make gripping and holding objects easier.
  • See an occupational therapist to learn more ways to make daily tasks easier and take pressure off your joints.
  • Visit an Independent Living Centre. These centres have a wide range of tools and equipment on display.

Are splints useful?

Splints may be helpful in some cases. They are often used to support the joint at the base of the thumb and for hands affected by rheumatoid arthritis. Splints are usually worn only when the joint is painful or to protect the joint during certain activities. Splints should not stop you from moving or using your hands as this can cause the muscles to weaken and waste. An occupational therapist can advise whether hand splints will be useful for you.

Should I exercise my hands?

Don’t be afraid to use your hands. Regular exercise is important in reducing stiffness and keeping your joints and muscles working. Try to make sure you move any affected joints in your fingers, thumbs, knuckles, and wrists as far as is comfortable several times a day. You could also see an occupational therapist or physiotherapist for specific hand exercises.

Gardening and arthritis

Gardening does not have to be a problem if you have arthritis as it can play an essential part in keeping up your physical activity.

Looking after your garden can be more difficult if you have arthritis or a similar condition, but it does not mean you have to give up something you enjoy. Changing the way you do certain things can help you keep up your daily activities and hobbies.

There are a several ways of overcoming difficulties with gardening jobs. The methods you choose will depend on how arthritis affects you, for example, whether you have trouble getting about generally, find it difficult to bend to ground level or have pain and stiffness in your hands and wrists.

You can make gardening more comfortable by protecting your joints and pacing yourself.

Joint protection is about using joints in ways that will help to reduce pain and strain and allow you to continue with your daily activities. Using different tools or adapting the ones you already have can help you to protect your joints. You can also try changing the way you do things that you find uncomfortable or painful.

Making sure you take regular breaks and switching between more demanding and gentler tasks while you are gardening will ensure that you pace yourself and don’t overdo it. Breaking down larger jobs into smaller tasks can also help you to manage your daily work.

If you would like to learn how to make gardening more manageable, the Gardening and Arthritis booklet provides invaluable information. The booklet looks at how garden layout, the right tools and pacing techniques can help look after your garden without causing pain afterwards.

You can obtain your FREE copy by calling us on 1800 011 041 or email general@arthritiswa.org.au

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