Musculoskeletal conditions affect over 10 million people in the UK and care for these conditions accounts for the third largest area of NHS programme spending at £4.7 billion. Did you know that almost half of people over the age of 65 suffer from osteoarthritis? If you’re affected, then this guide might just help you to maintain function in one of the most commonly affected areas: the hands.
Arthritis is a degenerative joint disease that can affect any joint in your body. In the hands, the most common areas of discomfort are the wrist, the basilar joint that connects your thumb and wrist, fingertips (DIP joint) and the middle knuckles of the fingers (PIP joint). It is caused when the cartilage between joints deteriorates. The causes of arthritis are not fully understood and there is no definitive cure. As we get older, we become more susceptible due to general wear and tear throughout life, but it is not an inevitable part of ageing. Some of the causes include:
- Obesity – increased body weight adds stress to lower body joints. The knees are especially vulnerable to osteoarthritis in patients, as every pound a person gains adds 4 pounds of pressure on the knees.
- Injury or overuse – People whose jobs require repetitive motion, such as physically demanding roles or operating machinery, have a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis.
- Genetics – Particularly in the hands, genetics play a huge role in the onset and progression of arthritis. Inherited bone abnormalities that cause cartilage to form abnormally are the main culprit where genetics are concerned. Genetics do not mean that you will absolutely develop arthritis in old age.
In older people, maintaining a healthy diet to avoid extra weight gain is pretty simple; however, exercise is a little more difficult if you struggle with mobility problems and constant throbbing pain, inflammation and stiffness associated with arthritis.
In the hands, the following tips may help to alleviate pain in the fingers. Range-of-motion exercises are proven to be beneficial in improving dexterity in people with this type of arthritis. Try these:
- Make a fist – this is a quick and convenient exercise to help if your hands are feeling stiff. Hold your hand out with all fingers straight, then slowly form a fist, placing your thumb on the outside of the hand. Don’t apply too much pressure. Now, release slowly so that your hand is outstretched once again. Repeat 10 times before switching hands to help loosen joints.
- Finger bends – Hold out your hands once again, with your thumb positioned upwards. This exercise may be a little more difficult if your arthritis is especially acute. Now, keeping your wrist straight, start with your thumb and bend it down to your palm, making sure to focus on bending your knuckles. Hold this for a couple of seconds before relaxing your thumb. Move on to your next finger, and so on.
- Thumb Bends – This is similar to the last exercise, only it stretches and focuses on the basilar joint more so. Start in a neutral position once again, fingers outstretched. Now, with your thumb stretch as far to your pinky finger as you can. If you can’t reach all of the way, don’t worry. Hold the position for a couple of seconds before repeating. Do this 10 times with both hands.
- Fan Hands – You’ve heard of jazz hands, now try this. From a relaxed position, gently spread your fingers as far as possible, like a fan opening. Make a fist between stretches to take this exercise further. Repeat on both hands, holding both positions for 5 seconds.
- Finger Lift – Placing your hand on a flat surface, palm down, slowly lift your thumb off the table. Hold it in the air for 2-3 seconds before repeating with each finger, one by one. Now, move on to your other hand.
Incorporating these exercises into your daily routine can significantly ease the aches associated with arthritis of the hands. They are uncomplicated and straightforward so that you can even do them when you are enjoying a nice cup of tea. As always, speak to your doctor if you have any further concerns or contact us for a consultation. Remember to stay safe and look after yourself by adopting a healthy diet and by keeping mobile.
Statistics courtesy of Arthritis Research UK