We see many people through our clinic who have pain.  Pain from arthritis in the hands and wrists is more common that you think. Pain caused by osteoarthritis occurs from wear and tear to joints and joint structures over time. There are many reasons why your joints ache and hurt.  Some of these can include:

Inflammation inside your joints – this irritates your nerve endings and causes pain

Worn or damaged cartilage – cartilage has o nerve endings so you may not know if it is damaged.  But, if your cartilage does become badly damaged, the bone underneath may also begin to wear and change shape.  This can be very painful because your bone contains nerve endings that transmit pain message.

Putting extra pressure on your joints – Not surprisingly, carrying heavy items can increase the pain in your hands and wrists.  When your joints are lacking in stability, they have difficulty maintaining their position and strength needed to take on heavier loads.  Lifting heavy items, or engaging in repetitive work can lead to muscle pain.  Muscles that surround the joint will often ‘over work’ to try and provide the stability that is missing from the joint.  Stability can be affected by the surrounding ligaments becoming slack over time as arthritis progresses. 

There are many ways hand therapy can help to reduce pain in arthritic joints.  The advice we would recommend for poeple wanting to make a start at home, is to follow a set of basic steps, known as Joint Protection Principles.  These principles are as follows:

Respect pain: pain can be telling you that your joint is under strain.  It is important to develop an awareness of pain caused by activities in a 12-24 hour period.  Think about what you do in that period, and if pain lingers longer than 2 hours after the completion of an activity, you should modify what you are doing.

Use larger/stronger joints where possible to take the load of heavy items: For example, carrying a shopping bag on your forearm, rather than gripping tightly in your fingers, and hugging items that you are carrying close to your body so the weight is supported.

Avoid tight grasp: Build up the handles of commonly used items at home so you do not have to grip as tightly.  Modify door handles and taps to lever designs.

Avoid remaining in the one position for a long period of time: This can increase joint pain, and lead to fatigue.  Stop, take breaks, and move around when possible.

Balance rest and activity: Prioritise tasks and then to do the harder ones on days when you feel less painful.  As a rough guide, take a break of 10-15 minutes every 1-2 hours.

Maintain muscle strength and joint movement: Joints become stiff if we do not move them.  We also need strong muscles to ensure we support the structures around our joints.  Strong muscles means you will be able to do more before getting pain.  See a hand therapist to get a program suited to you to ensure you are strengthening the right muscles and not aggravating the situation.

Distribute loads evenly: For example, picking up items with two hands, or sliding items on a bench rather than lifting.

Change how an activity is done: If there are things you know cause pain, talk to your hand therapist about assistive devices that might make it easier to complete.  Other options are delegating tasks to others or replacing tools that are difficult to use.

Protecting your joints is important.  Why? Because it can help decrease the need for reconstructive surgery of your joints and allow you to continue doing the things you love, hopefully pain free!