Tips on how to manage arthritis in the hands


Arthritis of the hand is a big problem


Until fairly recently this had not been addressed by researchers. According to a recent study conducted at Keele University, more than 12 per cent of people over the age of 50 have severe hand-related disability. Of these, 38 per cent had seen their GP but only three per cent had seen a hand therapist. The research also shows that many people with hand osteoarthritis who went to their GP had been told that nothing could be done, which is not the case.


Unlike replacement surgery of the larger joints in the body such as the hip or knee, surgery to replace joints in the hand is not widely performed in people with osteoarthritis, so practical daily management is essential. Currently the best evidence for conservative treatment is joint protection and exercises. In a recent study it was found that joint protection provides an effective intervention for medium term outcome.


So what is joint protection?

Joint protection is all about group work, where participants use gadgets to help them prepare a simple meal and techniques to help them cope better with everyday activities. -” Professor Dziedzic, a physiotherapist involved in the research, explains, “Joint protection is easier to adapt into their everyday lives than activity or exercise.” It’s all about highlighting the activities of daily living that are aggravating your arthritis.


O.k so how can you work out the aggravating activities?

I advise keeping a diary for 1-2 days and monitor every household task you do with your hands. Take notice of pain - it can serve as a warning that your joints are being overworked. This is valuable information and provides the key to adjusting daily tasks.


Once you highlight the potential activities at fault use practical tips such as these:


  • Use larger, stronger joints – for example, carry your shopping bags over your shoulder rather than in your hands.
  • Spread the load over several joints – try carrying things with two hands.
  • Buy pre-cut vegetables and meat to make cooking easier.
  • Avoid gripping things tightly – find out about gadgets that can make gripping and holding objects easier.
  • Visit an Independent Living Centre. These centres have a wide range of tools and equipment on display. You can get advice, including where to purchase equipment, in person or over the phone. Occupational therapists are also available at the centres to provide advice about equipment.


What exercises can I do?


With regards to exercise, the UK NHS clinic I used to work in have a nice exercise handout that I always recommend to people. Unfortunately I can't find it anymore! However, this advice and exercise sheet from Vancouver is an excellent replacement. My advice is to start slow for the first two weeks, don’t over press/stretch the joint and build up to doing the strength exercises. I’m not a big believer in static stretches so look to incorporate the strengthening element as quickly as you can.