As we approach the end of the school year and roll into summer, now is a good time to discuss caring for your hands while working in the yard. Lots of us enjoy gardening and watching the fruit of our labor grow into something beautiful. Unfortunately, many people suffer from osteoarthritis which can negatively affect the everyday use of your hands.
So, what is osteoarthritis (OA)? OA is typically referred to as “wear and tear” arthritis and can be caused by overuse or an injury to a joint. OA attacks the cartilage of a joint, which is the cushion of the joint. Once the cartilage becomes thin or worn down, the two bones that make up the joint can start to rub on one another and cause pain with motion. Ouch! Fortunately, there are things you can do to protect your joints, both before developing OA and once you already have some OA.
One of the most commonly affected joints from OA is your opposable thumb joint. Arthritis of this joint is also called basal joint arthritis. One of the great options to decrease pain and increase function from this type of OA is splinting. At Ascend Hand Therapy, we fabricate custom splints and also carry pre-fabricated splints. One effective pre-fabricated splint is called a PUSH MetaGrip splint. This splint allows functional range of motion of the thumb while still offering needed support. Many therapists use this splint to treat their own thumb pain.
In addition to formal therapeutic interventions, there are some simple guidelines to follow that can help protect your joints. Here are a few pointers to remember this summer:
- Take breaks – Injuries often occur once we get tired and fatigued. Pace yourself. If you start feeling worn out and tired, take a break and rehydrate. Even if you only have 15 minutes of work left, let your joints take a break for a couple of minutes. You need your hands!
- Use the biggest joints available – Don’t use finger joints when you can use your wrists or elbows. A good example is carrying bags. Carry the bags with the handle in your palm or on your forearm versus the handle on your fingers.
- Avoid lateral stresses on your joints – Your fingers are meant to bend and straighten primarily. When forces are applied in a side-to-side fashion on the joints, you increase your risk of damaging the cartilage and soft tissue supporting the joint.
- Use bigger handles – Holding a shovel or other gardening tool for a long period of time can be very tiring. Using a larger handle can offer less stress on your joints and possibly avoid pain at the end of the day.
These are just a few ideas about how to protect your joints. If you are experiencing prolonged pain and need a more in depth assessment of your current situation, contact us to see how we can help you reach your goals. May the 4th be with you!