Hand pain and stiffness can be crippling for an autoimmune arthritis patient.
Until recently, I've only had a few problems with my hands. When I was in high school, I had a problem with my right wrist. The doctor told me I had tendinitis and to wear a wrist brace for about six weeks. Back then, I didn't realize that all of my problems were tied to my psoriatic arthritis.
When I started working after college, I experienced periods where my wrist would really bother me. It would start with my right wrist and go up into my forearm and my elbow as well. My coworker suggested maybe I was starting to get carpal tunnel, so I got a wrist brace and wore it again. It would come and go. Sometimes I would go months without having problems, whereas other months it would bother me most days.
Then I was officially diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis. I realized that, not only were my knee problems directly related to my psoriatic arthritis, but my hand and wrist issues were as well.
I've now had to learn to deal with flare ups with my hands. Having gone back to work recently, and being on my computer a lot more than I was before, I had to make some modifications. I’ve also incorporated different holistic aspects into my life to make sure that my hands are taken care of. Here are ten tips and tricks that I use.
1. Get your body moving
It may be the last thing you want to do, but completing a gentle yoga practice or walking around the block will get your blood pumping, your lymphatic system moving, and break up the stiffness that you feel.
2. Complete hand exercises
We don't often focus on strengthening the muscles in our fingers or stretching out the hands, wrists and arms. When we're on our computers, phones, and electronic devices all day, they will get extremely tight -- even for a healthy person! With our autoimmune conditions, and the excess pressure, they become easy targets for flare-ups. By completing exercises to strengthen these muscles, and taking time out of our day to focus on stretching and moving our limbs, we can help dissipate the pain and stiffness we may experience.
If you can, occupational therapy or physical therapy is always a great option to keep your hands and body moving. Fluidotherapy, ultrasound, massage, strengthening and stretching exercises -- these are all wonderful things that will keep your hands agile and moving.
3. Seek alternative therapies
Add in alternative therapies to your treatment plan. Chiropractic care, massage therapy, acupuncture, energy work -- these are all wonderful modalities that will help support your whole body. Treating your entire body will help support all its processes and will help minimize ALL your symptoms.
4. Ice & heat
If you're like me, sometimes you wake up in the morning and your hands hurt so much that making a fist almost seems impossible. In this instance, I always grab my heating pad. Throw it on for 15 minutes to warm up my digits and within a bit, my hands are moving and on their way to working like normal.
At the end of the day, if your hands are swollen and feeling like they are on fire, using an ice pack can help tone down the inflammation. You can use ice and heat interchangeably, depending on the different symptoms that you have. Play around with which one gives you the most relief and then use that for the management of symptoms.
5. Eat an anti-inflammatory diet
Make sure that you are supporting your body by eating an anti-inflammatory diet. Foods which create inflammation in your body will only exacerbate your symptoms. Learn your trigger foods and avoid them. Each of us have different foods which cause us problems, so it's important that you identify what yours are. An elimination diet is a great way of doing that!
There are certain foods that you can eat that will help fight inflammation, including ginger and turmeric. Add them to your dishes, your juices, and anything that you can!
Incorporate supplements including Cucurmin, Vitamin C and Zinc into your diet. Some supplements are just as, if not more powerful, than medications. Take, for instance cucurmin, which is the active ingredient in turmeric. This supplement can rival ibuprofen any day! For more suggestions on supplements to take, check out this post.
7. Topical pain creams
Try different topical ointment. Your doctor can prescribe different compounded prescriptions or you can try over the counter rubs. I personally love doTerra’s deep blue, it helps diminish my pain and helps dissipate my inflammation.
8. Make your hands a priority during the work day
If you have a job where you're at a desk all day, make sure to take frequent breaks to stop the monotonous and repetitive motions of your hands. Set a timer on your phone to stretch out your hands and arms once an hour.
It also helps to make sure that you have an external keyboard and an external mouse if you’re using a laptop. Try to maintain a “floating” position with your hands when you’re typing. Often we think that resting wrists on a pad will help, but studies have shown that this actually puts more tension and pressure on the wrist.
9. Limiting electronic use
Our hands get so abused by the use of all of these smartphones, tablets and computers. The repetitive motions tire out our small muscles within our fingers and hands. Limiting our use is essential. I know that it’s not realistic to completely stop using phones and electronics, but become cognizant of how often you’re on your phone checking your social channels, texting or scrolling through the internet.
Use the talk-to-text option on your phone. Instead of using your fingers to type everything, click that little microphone icon and speak your response. Just doing this will help save your hands a bit. You don't realize how often you use your phone until you truly start paying attention.
10. Accessibility computer settings
Use the accessibility settings on your computer. There are ways to change the way that your computer uses your finger movements. Sticky keys, double-clicking options, and programs that can allow you to talk-to-text onto your computer. I myself have downloaded the Dragon software and use it to help dictate my blog posts!
It can be extremely frustrating trying to open a screw top jar or a door, brushing your teeth, or trying to use your phone or computer when your hands are flaring up. But, if you take a proactive approach and strengthen your hands and wrists, minimize inflammation in your body, and keep your body moving, you can have a positive impact on your hands.