Skip to main content

Occupational Therapist offers tips on keeping hands, wrists healthy

Hospital news | Thursday, March 23, 2023

Contact: Sarah Bello

By Vanessa Alleruzzo, OTD, OTR/L

Let’s face it: osteoarthritis is a part of life. Our bodies do hard and important work for us throughout our lifespan, and our joints take the brunt of that work. Understanding and implementing joint protection strategies into our daily routines can keep our bodies working for us longer and with less pain.

Joint protection is the concept of reducing strain, pain and potential injury to our joints. To help us remember these strategies, remember L.E.S.S. pain and strain through our joints is best.

Listen to your body; pain is a way your body communicates with you. When our hands or wrists hurt during or commonly, after, an activity, we need to consider that as a message or a sign to think about what our hands may be trying to tell us. Could I have stopped that activity sooner, or should I have taken a rest break? Do I have a tool that would make that activity easier for my hands (think: electric can opener)? Is there a way I could have positioned my hands and wrists differently that does not cause as much discomfort to them?

Energy conservation is when we balance activity and rest. This can look like working rest breaks into an activity or avoiding activities that cannot be stopped if they cause pain during or after the activity. This can also look like prioritizing activities we need to get done while sprinkling in lighter activities as our bodies allow (remembering to listen to the messages our bodies are sending during and after activity).

Stronger joints take the lead. We practice this when we lift with our legs instead of our back. Larger joints are stronger and can do more work with less effort. Instead of carrying the grocery bags in your hand, try positioning them on your forearm so your hands are free. It may take some time to get used to, but thinking about which joints are the largest, strongest joints for the job will ultimately make life easier and keep your smaller joints happy.

Strategize how you can use these approaches across your daily activities. Use assistive devices when they are available (again, think: electric can opener), modify your environment to reduce strain, and retrain yourself to use your larger joints.

Here are a few specific tips to remember: Use both hands when possible, avoid a tight grip, take breaks during repetitive hand activities, avoid using the tip of your thumb, keep joints in a neutral position during activities, and consider the need for an orthosis for joint support.

Talk to your primary care provider about a referral to Occupational Therapy for more education, custom orthoses, and strategies to keep your hands and wrists happy and healthy.