If you are living with arthritis hand pain, you may find that everyday activities are difficult. From cooking to doing make-up, arthritis can interfere with your ability to take care of yourself and others. Fortunately, there are some tried-and-tested life hacks that can minimize stress on the fingers, thumbs, and wrists. These can make your activities more comfortable, reduce your risk of hand pain, and prevent future joint problems.
Below are 9 strategies, techniques, and tools to help reduce stress on hand joints. They can be used no matter what type of arthritis you have—osteoarthritis or a form of autoimmune arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis. The goal is to decrease the overall effects of arthritis so that you can live a life that you love.
If you try these strategies but find yourself needing more support, consider asking your doctor for a referral to an occupational therapist.
Read more about what occupational therapists can do for people who have arthritis hand pain: Therapy for Rheumatoid Arthritis in the Hand
1. Turn your prescription medication caps upside down
Removing a child-proof cap from a prescription medicine bottle requires pushing down and twisting at the same time. This motion takes strength and dexterity that you may not have if your hand joints are swollen and painful.
If young children are not present in your home, you can use a little-known trick to make the prescription container cap an easy twist-off: remove the cap and flip it over. The flip side is designed to work as a traditional twist-off cap that requires minimal force.
Another trick to ease strain on your hands is to place the palm of one hand on top of the cap and twist it open. This approach may be easier than gripping and twisting the cap with your fingers and thumb.
2. Change the way you hold small children
Parents and caregivers who have hand arthritis may worry about hurting their hands—especially their thumbs and wrists—when carrying toddlers and small children. To save your hand joints from unnecessary strain, try a holding technique that distributes weight to other joints.
Support the child by wrapping your forearms under and around them. In addition, hold them directly in front of you, rather than on one hip. This approach takes weight off the hands and distributes it to your arms and shoulders.
3. Wear clothes that are easy to take on and off
Using buttons, snaps, and zippers requires a lot of finger dexterity, so arthritic hand pain can make getting dressed a challenge. Loose clothing without buttons and other fasteners tend to be the easiest. When pull-on clothing is not an option, shirts, coats, and dresses with magnetic buttons may be a good choice.
Buttons held together by magnetic attraction fasten together with minimal effort. The magnets stay together throughout the day and can be easily pulled apart when undressing. Certain retailers sell clothing made with magnetic buttons, and some sell magnetic fasteners that attach to standard buttons and buttonholes. There are even front-closing bras with magnetic closures.
4. Use pump containers instead of squeeze bottles
Is your shampoo contained in a tube or squeeze bottle? Holding and squeezing a wet, slippery bottle puts stress on the hand joints, especially the joint at the base of the thumb (the carpometacarpal joint). Switch to a pump container that you can press with your palm. Of course, this same advice applies to conditioner, soap, and other product containers.
5. Change how you hold a pen or stylus
Holding a pen or stylus can be difficult for tender or stiff joints. Many people with arthritis find it more helpful to hold the end of the pen or stylus in between their pointer and middle finger, rather than between their thumb and pointer finger. This is a more comfortable position for the knuckles. Additionally, pens with a wide grip are easier to hold and use than narrow ones.
6. Use knives with oversized handles or alternative designs
Your grip may not be strong enough to cut and chop food with a standard knife. Many knives are specially designed for people with arthritis. Some have extra-wide handles so they’re easier to grasp. Others use a “rocking” motion rather than a squeeze motion to cut. Another type has an alternative design with a handle at a 90° angle to the knife, allowing you to use a fisted grasp, which minimizes stress on the thumb joint.
While these knives can cost more than standard ones, they may be able to save you time and money.
7. Use your palm when injecting medication
Treating rheumatoid arthritis and other forms of autoimmune arthritis often requires self-injecting medication. It is ironic that preparing a syringe and injecting the medication requires a lot of dexterity in the hands, which can be swollen and painful from arthritis.
If you are prescribed an injectable medication, your medical team will train you on the steps involved in preparing and using a syringe. One tip that may not be mentioned is that you can use your palm to gently push in the syringe’s plunger. This approach avoids putting stress on the thumb joints.
8. Use voice recording software
Using voice recording software can help give your fingers a rest if you are experiencing pain or inflammation while typing. Most phones, tablets, and laptops are equipped with voice-recording software that lets you dictate notes and messages rather than typing them. Many downloadable voice recording apps are available, too. This type of software is continually getting better, and some programs will adapt to your voice and talking style over time.
You may need to manually fix small bits of text, such as adding commas or correcting a few words, but those edits will require less work than typing.
9. Choose your travel mug carefully
When you have arthritic hand pain, the objects you use every day, such as travel mugs, can have a surprisingly big impact on your pain levels. When choosing a travel mug, consider its features:
- How heavy is it? (Remember, it will be heavier when it’s full of liquid.)
- Does the width of the mug make it comfortable to grip? If the mug has a handle, is it comfortable to hold?
- How easy is it to snap or pull back the mechanism that opens and closes the drinking hole?
- Is it dishwasher safe or will you have to clean it by hand?
Because hand arthritis can affect different joints, there are no right or wrong answers to these questions. Simply choose what features are important to you. You may also find it easier to lift a mug when you fill it only halfway.
These are just a handful of strategies, techniques, and products, to help make living with hand arthritis easier. Individuals looking for strategies and techniques to solve specific problems may consult with a health professional, such as an occupational therapist or rheumatologist. An orthopedist or physical therapist who specializes in hand arthritis can also be an excellent resource.