You are in good hands

Our hands are valuable tools we use daily to complete numerous tasks. And human hands are unique, due to our multi-jointed fingers and our opposable thumb. Unlike most other living beings, this uniqueness enables us to firmly grasp and manipulate objects of different shapes. From using a knife and fork, to sewing buttons to turning on taps, our hands are indispensable. Thus, there is a reason why people with superior manual skills are characterized as “handy.”


Have you worked your fingers to the bone?

Despite their practicality and versatility, our hands can experience pain, swelling and stiffness — particularly at the finger and wrist joints, and at the base of the thumb. Hand and finger pain in the joints is debilitating, as it affects grip strength and restricts movement. This hinders everyday activities including the ability to grasp, hold and carry items, type on a keyboard, open doors, dress oneself, and eat.

Hand and finger pain can be caused by conditions such as trigger finger/thumb, sprains and carpal tunnel syndrome. And as we age, the cartilage that cushions the ends of bones in our joints gradually deteriorate. This condition is generally referred to as osteoarthritis.


Stiff fingers — a royal pain

Osteoarthritis (OA) of the hands is prevalent in older adults. Half of women and one-quarter of men have OA of the hands by the time they reach eighty-five years of age. Besides hand and finger pain, symptoms include stiffness with loss of range of motion, swelling, nodules (bony bumps at the joint site), joint deformity and weakness. The most affected joints are at the base of the thumb (where the thumb joins the wrist), at the tips of the fingers, and at the middle joint of the fingers.


What are simple ways to manage pain and stiffness of hands and wrists?

The Arthritis Foundation and Arthritis Australia suggest a number of helpful things to do when you experience hand and finger pain and related stiffness.  Here are some recommendations to ease hand and finger pain.

• Identify and avoid activities that aggravate the problem. Take regular rests from an activity that aggravates hand and finger pain. Also, change the way you perform an activity. For instance, if you are a keen gardener and use secateurs, increase the width of the grip or wear padded gloves.

• Spread the load over several joints and use larger and stronger joints. Try carrying your shopping /grocery bags on your forearm or other bags over your shoulder. And use two hands to execute a task, rather than one.

• Use splints for deformed joints. Hand splints support the joints and improve function. However, splints should not stop you from using your hands, as this will lead to muscle weakness and perpetuates pain.

• Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication. Over-the-counter medicines – both oral and topical – help reduce hand and finger pain and inflammation. Please consult your doctor or pharmacist regarding medication.

• Perform hand focused exercises. Improve the strength of your hands and the range of movement of the fingers and wrist with specific exercises (see below).


Five exercises to improve strength and mobility of fingers


1  Finger Tendon Gliding Exercise  

⋅ Start in a seated position and place your arm on a table, holding the forearm up and your hand and fingers straight.

⋅ Bend your knuckles, keeping the middle and end joints of your fingers straight.

⋅ From this position, bend the middle joints of your fingers, keeping the tips of your fingers straight.

⋅ From here, curl your fingers into a fist before straightening your knuckles while keeping the middle and end joints of your fingers bent.

⋅ Return to the start position with your fingers straight.

⋅ Keep your wrist straight throughout the exercise.

⋅ Repeat this exercise for a total of 8 times.


2  Finger Extension – prayer position 

⋅ Sit upright in a chair.

⋅ Bring your palms together in front of you and close to your chest.

⋅ Gradually lower your hands, keeping the palms of your hands together.

⋅ Hold this position in a stretch for 15 seconds.

⋅ Repeat this exercise for a total of 2 times.


3  Grip Strengthener

⋅ Squeeze a hand-exercise ball or rolled towel as hard as you can and hold for 5 seconds, then release.

⋅ Repeat this for a total of 5 times

⋅ Do not do this exercise if you are experiencing acute pain in your hands with squeezing.


4  Finger Lift

⋅ Place your hand flat on a table, palm down and fingers straight.

⋅ Slowly lift your thumb off the table, hold for three seconds, then lower it.

⋅ Repeat a total of 5 times with each finger individually.


5  Finger Stretch

⋅ Place your hand palm down on a flat surface with fingers together.

⋅ Spread all fingers, including the thumb, for 5 seconds.

⋅ Close fingers together again, and repeat for a total of 5 times.