Hand Pain Joint Pain Joints

Advice from a Certified Hand Therapist: Joint Protection

Until our hands begin to become painful we rarely think about the activities they perform.  The joints of your hands are smaller than your knees or shoulders, allowing us to reach into tight spaces, pinch, and manipulate objects.  Your joints are supported by ligaments which connect bone to bone and stop the joints from moving into directions they shouldn’t go. They provide support for the joint, allowing the muscle to move the joint correctly.  Throughout our lifetime joints can be stressed during activities like carrying a grocery bag, wringing out a washcloth, or twisting off a bottle cap.  These activities can stretch ligaments and wear out cartilage in your joints resulting in inflammation and pain.  There are simple strategies you can use to protect your joints which will reduce pain during daily tasks.

How can I protect my painful thumbs?

Your thumb starts at the base of your wrist and extends to the tip of your thumb.  To protect your thumb you can try to reduce the amount of heavy pinching you do throughout your day.  For example:

When you are holding a cup, try to keep your thumb tucked in next to your index finger instead of wrapped around the side.  Smaller glasses are easier if your hands are smaller.

Adaptive pens that fit around your index finger will decrease how much effort is needed to perform handwriting tasks because it reduces the amount of force you need to use to pinch the pen.

Scissors with alternative handles, like spring-loaded ones, can reduce the pressure on your thumbs as you use your fingers and the palm of your hand to squeeze.  These come in a variety of sizes and can even be used for tasks like sewing.

What can I do to protect my fingers?

Instead of carrying items like a purse or grocery bag in your fingers, load the larger joints like your elbow or shoulder instead.

Reduce use of gripping on small handles with heavier items by using two hands for support when possible.

The use of door handles as opposed to door knobs can help to reduce discomfort and difficulty for your fingers as well as your thumb.

These are small habits you can start to implement in your daily life which will help to protect your joints and reduce pain while performing activities.  A hand therapist can also help you to assess your daily activities and make more specific recommendations for your hands to improve your function.  Remember, small changes can make a huge impact!


Gwen Morris, OTD, OTR/L, CHT, CLT is a Certified Hand Therapist and a member of the American Society of Hand Therapists.

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