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Texas Orthopedics, Sports & Rehabilitation Associates

Monday, June 13, 2011

Be Kind to Your Hands

Post provided by Barbara Bergin, MD

Here are some tips on how to ease the load on your hands. Follow these recommendations and maybe I’ll be seeing less of you!

1) Invest in a nice electric can opener. It’s hard to open cans and once you get arthritis, it’s nearly impossible. So why not start using the electric can opener before you get it? I used to hate electric can openers because of that greasy, black coagulum of old tomato juice and pork and bean gravy that collected in its little gears. But now you can remove that piece and wash it! Using an electric can opener will spare your thumb a lot of stress over the decades.

2) Use jar opening gadgets and bang the lids on the counter top before trying to open them. Spreading your hands out and doing something as strenuous as opening large jar lids and tight bottle tops really strains those delicate joints. Again, once you have arthritis, you won’t even be able to try. Don’t wait until you have pain to start using these handy little devices. I also like to use those little rubber pads.

3) Notice how you grab the steering wheel in your car. Do you hold it with your four fingers wrapped tightly around the wheel and your thumb hyper-extended like a hitch hiker? Try to relax your hands on the wheel. This position puts a lot of pressure on the base of your thumb also. Many of my patients have pain when they drive. I encourage them to wear driving gloves and even to put a sheepskin cover on the steering wheel. You can grab tightly while using these items, but they’ll create a subconscious reminder to loosen your grip.

4) Get smaller milk cartons, or the cartons with a handle instead of the big square half gallon cartons. Again, that wide grip is the perpetrator of harm to your thumb.

5) Same goes for big books, notebooks, dictionaries, and family Bibles. Don’t just grab them with one hand from the shelves. Lift them with two hands; one pulling from the top and the other supporting the bottom of the book.

6) Use an electric toothbrush rather than an old school brush. Again, that grip with the thumb hyper-extended should be minimized. You grab an electric toothbrush with your fist and you don’t have to manually move it up and down like you do with the old school brush. Cavemen didn’t brush their teeth.

7) I’m going to pull my first plug against pushups and I know I’m going to get loads of hate mail, just like I did when I came out against squats. I love the idea of pushups. It’s a cheap, easy way to get a full body workout. You can do it when you’re out of town and have no access to a gym. You can do it if you don’t want to go to a gym or buy your own weights. You can use them to help count scores at a football game, even when the scoreboard works just fine. They’re just fun! But I see tons of patients who have injured their hands and wrists doing pushups. I know someone will ask about using pushup bars. Yes, they help reduce some of the stress of pushups by loading the wrist in a more biomechanically advantageous way, but there are other issues to be further discussed later. Remember, our little hands and wrists evolved away from being weight bearing structures to being dexterous structures; best used for delicate manipulations. So don’t go four-legged on me.

8) Use gloves when doing dirty or heavy work; weight lifting, gardening, construction. They protect your hands from injury and infection, but also allow you to loosen your grip.

9) Don’t try to carry 10 bags of groceries from your car to the kitchen. I used to sling one bag on every finger, two on some if the bag was light. Believe it or not, I’ve seen patients develop finger tendonitis and “tennis elbow” from doing just that. Take your time. Frankly, taking your time is a good adage in general. Often we injure ourselves because we’re in just too dang much of a hurry.

10) Don’t persevere with any activity that causes pain in your hands, thinking you can just work through it. Give it a rest. I’m thinking of my patients who spend an entire day cutting paper or fabric with scissors, all the while developing a numb spot on the side of their thumb. That can cause permanent damage. Stop. Use different scissors. Rest. Get some gloves. Let someone else do it for awhile.

11) Always try to negotiate with others by using your words and not your fist. The fist almost always loses against teeth, walls and windows. It sometimes wins against noses and tummies.

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