Arthritis Hand Joints

Advice from a Certified Hand Therapist: Protecting Your Joints

Closeup on young housewife opening jar of pickled cucumbers

May is National Arthritis Awareness Month! What better time to revisit and elaborate on a topic we started back in August 2015: Living with(out) thumb pain. In that post, we briefly discussed something called “joint protection,” and specifically discussed ways to protect your thumb and fingers when opening jars. For this edition, we’ll answer a few more questions and offer a few more tips.

The joints in my fingers are achy and feel swollen and stiff. I especially notice this after I’ve been working in the yard or doing household chores like vacuuming. My doctor says it is osteoarthritis. Is there anything I can do to make them feel better?

If your doctor has said you have osteoarthritis, you should consider this an early warning alarm.  You have a degenerative process happening within the joints. You need to do something to keep that from getting worse. This is where joint protection comes into play.

Okay, so I need to protect my joints. What does that mean?

There are some basic principles. The first is to use the largest joint possible for the task. Take a look at the pictures below.  The first image shows an example of how many of us hold/lift a plate. Notice how much weight the thumb is supporting. It does not seem like much, but reducing this force where you can is the best place to start saving your joints and reducing your pain!

holding plate 1 holding plate 2

Here is another example using adaptive equipment (the angled knife) to reposition your fingers to protect your joints.

holding knifeOkay, so I need to use larger joints.  What else?

Decreasing pressure on your finger and thumb tips is another technique. Examples of this would be taking a look at how hard you hold your pencil/pen, toothbrush and even your smartphone. If you can use less pressure, your joints will be happier with you.

That sounds like a good start. Where can I learn more?

A certified hand therapist can give you more information and help you with specific recommendations and activities.You can find a certified hand therapist through the the American Society of Hand Therapists Find a Therapist Directory.


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

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