Keeping your hands healthy and pain free this summer
Occupational Therapist Lara Gordon assists a patient at Methodist Mansfield Medical Center. Photo courtesy of Angel Biasatti.
Sunny days are great for grilling and outdoor activities, but without proper protection, everyday tasks like gardening, doing repairs around the house, riding your bike, preparing meals, grocery shopping, and using your computer can injure your hands over time. Think vacation, and give your hands a break.
“Maintaining good hand health is a year-round activity,” says Lara Gordon, occupational Therapist and Certified Hand Therapist on the physical medicine staff at Methodist Mansfield Medical Center. “Your hands are constantly on the go. Remembering to stretch and take regular rest breaks during repetitive or prolonged activities are a couple of ways to keep your hands healthy.”
Gordon recommends warming up your hands before beginning a task, just as you would before you exercise. “Spread your hands and fingers wide, then ball them up in a fist. Repeat five times,” Gordon describes. “This will keep your hands flexible and decrease the chance of muscle strain.”
The small joints in your hands are especially vulnerable. Protect them by using a shopping cart instead of a basket, and avoid carrying heavy grocery bags by their handles. Instead, hold bags from the bottom and carry them one at a time. “The joints in your hands will thank you for it,” she says.
To avoid straining your hands with everyday tasks, switch to pumps for lotions, toothpaste, shampoos, and conditioners, and use the palm of your hand to pump instead of squeeze containers. Don’t use your hands as a tool to open bags or envelopes. Choose the right tool like a letter opener, scissors, or staple remover. Consider nonslip jar openers, electric can openers, and slip-on foam to enlarge small objects like pens and pencils. If you feel your hands tightening up or straining during the day, perform simple hand and arm stretches to improve flexibility.
“Try doing a prayer stretch by placing your palms together with your fingertips pointing toward the ceiling. Then stretch downward until you feel the stretch on the underside of your forearms,” she says.
Pain or discomfort is one of the ways your body lets you know it’s time to rest. “If you have pain during an activity like writing, gardening, cooking, painting, hammering, or filing, just stop and rest your hands,” she says.
Maintaining proper posture, using the appropriate tools for the job, changing your hand positions regularly, performing hand stretches and taking breaks, can be beneficial to maintain healthy hands this summer.
Treat your hands with love by stretching them regularly and letting them rest. If you are experiencing pain, it might be time to see your physician and a certified hand therapist. Don’t have a physician? Visit MethodistHealthSystem.org/FindAPhysician or call 877-637-4297 today.
by Angel Biasatti, Director of Community and Public Relations, Methodist Mansfield Medical Center