If you suffer from hand and wrist arthritis, your doctor may recommend occupational therapy. In addition to demonstrating various hand and wrist exercises to regain mobility, the therapist may teach you how to use assistive devices to manage your everyday duties. Other methods, including hot and cold applications and electrical stimulation, may be suggested by your therapist. Under your therapist's guidance, try these four ways to manage your condition:
1. Perform Simple Hand Exercises
Before you begin the following hand exercises, your therapist may recommend warming up your muscles and tendons by soaking your hands in a tub of warm water for 5-10 minutes. This may help loosen the tightness and avoid strain.
Exercising your hand and wrist may improve circulation, help strengthen joints and restore mobility. Once your range of motion has improved, you may experience less pain as well. Your occupational therapist may devise a customized program during your sessions and demonstrate the correct method for performing such exercises. Simple exercises may include:
Fist and Flex: This includes making a tight fist, then holding that position for several seconds. After doing so, you'll release the fist position and flex your fingers with an open hand. Your therapist may inform you of how many sets to perform, which typically will be 3-5 for each hand.
Hand Grip: This exercise will require the use of a flexible ball, preferably made of soft foam. While gripping the ball in your hand, you'll squeeze it firmly, then release your grip. Your therapist may instruct you of how many times to repeat this motion.
Putty Play: Knead some modeling clay or putty with your fingers, pinching and squeezing as you do. There is no right or wrong way to do this simple exercise, and it may help strengthen your grip.
Finger and Thumb Bends: There are alternate variations of a finger bend exercise, and your therapist may demonstrate a few. Basically, you'll be bending your fingers at the joints and holding that position for several seconds.
2. Make Use of Assistive Devices
Your therapist may recommend various gadgets and assistive devices to help with everyday tasks. Consider the use of the following devices:
Wrist Splint: A wrist splint may provide support and rest, important for healing. A splint may wrap around the entire hand, wrist and fingers, or it leave the fingers free. Many provide padding to provide comfort and help reduce inflammation.
Telescopic Reaching Device: This is an aid for helping you reach high objects. It looks like a rod with a long handle that extends to various heights. Pinchers are at the end of the device, so there is little effort required for grasping objects. This reaching pick-up tool may have a wide "jaw" for grabbing bottles and cans.
Electric Toothbrush: A simple yet effective solution, using an electric toothbrush may be easier for arthritic hands than manual brushing. It takes less effort and requires less dexterity, and many include ergonomically-designed rubber grips for comfort.
Velcro Fasteners: If your arthritis makes it difficult to tie shoelaces, Velcro fasteners might work well. Casual and work shoes are made with Velcro, making it easy for arthritis sufferers to use.
3. Alternate Between Hot and Cold
Heat may help minimize pain and stiffness, while cold packs can reduce swelling and inflammation. Your therapist may apply a warm compress before you exercise, then follow it up with a cold gel pack after the session. If alternating between hot and cold doesn't bring relief, you may want to experiment to determine which works best for you.
If heat tends to bring relief, your therapist may use an infrared heat lamp. The infrared heat penetrates more deeply and evenly than a warm compress. In addition, the radiant heat takes less time to work than conventional methods.
4. Try Electrical Stimulation
It's not uncommon to find an electrical stimulation device in a physical therapy room. Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (or TENS, as it is often referred to) is used to reduce muscle and joint pain from acquired medical conditions such as arthritis. TENS machines are available for home use as well, often in a compact, hand-held model.
The device produces electrical current, delivered into the muscle with the use of electrodes. These small pads are connected to wires and they attach to the affected area. Electrotherapy is said to stimulate circulation and nerve endings.
In conclusion, keep in mind that occupational therapy does more than help you control your pain and restore mobility. Your therapist provides evaluation and intervention, so you may overcome the challenge of everyday tasks. This may help you maintain a better quality of life, at home or at work.