Hand Hand Therapy Joints Thumb Thumb Pain

Advice from a Certified Hand Therapist: Living with(out) thumb pain

Closeup on young housewife opening jar of pickled cucumbers

I have pain in the palm of my hand at the base of my thumb. It hurts more when I try to open jars, and I frequently have to ask someone for help. Is there anything I can do to make this less painful?

Hand therapists discuss something called joint protection, which is all about – you guessed it – protecting your joints! Thumb pain can occur when there is joint inflammation and swelling. With the use of the right tools, you can perform the same tasks while minimizing or eliminating the pain. Tools to help with opening jars come in a variety of shapes and sizes.

For jars that have a vacuum seal (pasta sauces or jam jars), a device called a jar popper/jar key can help break the seal without stressing your thumb. This works similar to a church key for removing bottle tops. It catches the side of the lid and you use the leverage of the tool to release the vacuum. Once that is accomplished, opening the lid is much easier – and less painful!

OA Tool leverage 1  OA Tool leverage 2

That’s interesting. Does it work for pill bottles, too?

Good question! Because pill bottles don’t have a vacuum, it does not work for them; however, there is another option to help you out. Non-skid pads or domes have been around for years. Frequently, these were giveaway items from local stores, and their functionality was fairly poor. Newer materials have improved gripping power, which decreases the amount of squeezing needed — another way to save your joints. You can also open a bottle using your palm instead of your fingers and thumb.

OA Tool pill lid

So I can use this to open anything, right?

Like any tool, there are strengths and weaknesses. It can be used to assist with opening most small- and medium-sized jars or lids. For larger jars and bottles, electric or battery-operated openers are simple and do an even better job of protecting your joints.

OA Tool electric 1OA Tool electric 2

Any other tools I should know about?

For smaller lids and caps (like your water bottle), a small tool that operates like a wrench efficiently protects your joints by giving you extra leverage.

OA Tool like wrench

That is great news – my hand will be fixed!

Hold on there… These tools help to eliminate pain with opening jars, but they will not improve the damage that has already been done to the joint. You will need to practice joint protection strategies with more than just jars to keep the pain at bay. Look for more articles about joint protection strategies in future blog postings, or a find a certified hand therapist to talk about other things you can do to protect your joints.


Adam Holbrook, OTR/L, CHT is a certified hand therapist and a member of the American Society of Hand Therapists (ASHT).

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