Hand Pain? Top 10 Gift Ideas

Hand Pain? Top 10 Gift Ideas

Planning on doing some shopping for the holiday season?   Black Friday and Cyber Monday are upon us.  Here are some shopping suggestions to help you choose the perfect gift of health for family, friends or co-workers who suffer from the pain of carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, or arthritic hand joints.  Or maybe you deserve to treat yourself??

(Please note: I have no financial interest in or reimbursement received from promoting any of the following products.  They are items that I just truly believe can be helpful.)

Split Keyboard

As computers and portable devices have become smaller so have keyboards.  This makes it more difficult to maintain a good, neutral wrist posture while typing.  Those keyboards that have the inverted “V” down the middle help align the fingers with the forearm easing tension on the sides of the wrist and preventing wrist pain and tendinitis.

ergo keyboard sktetch

A Vertical Mouse

Using a mouse that is turned onto its side places the forearm in a more neutral position and can ease mousing pain.

vertical mouse pic

A Laptop Stand with a Free-Standing Keyboard

Although the portability of laptops make them a wonderful choice for those on-the-go, inherently the design will place either stress on the arms or stress on the neck.  When at home, turn your laptop into a more ergonomically friendly desktop device by using a stand with an accessory keyboard.

laptop stand pic

A Large-Barreled Pen or Ergonomically Designed Pen

Many people write with tension.  Using a larger barreled pen such as the Dr. Grip, a felt-tip pen that writes smoothly, or an ergonomically designed pen such as the PenAgain can ease thumb pain and hand cramping.

ergo pen

Paraffin Bath

For an at-home-spa treat, a paraffin bath is not only good for relaxation but can help ease the deep ache caused by many hand injuries.  Also, heat is good for increasing the flexibility of joints, easing joint pain caused by arthritis, and enhancing the softness of a thick scar.

parabath

Therapeutic Tape

Seen on many athletes, therapeutic tape does not bind the joints for support the way athletic tape does but rather lies on the muscle belly.  The oscillating pattern of the adhesive, as well as mild stretch, lifts the surface of the skin, increases lymphatic and blood flow to the area, and relaxes the tissues around the superficial free nerve endings – providing some instant pain relief for most people!  Instructions for application are usually provided in the box.  There are also multiple online videos that show proper application.

therapy tape pic

An Electric Can-Opener

Or, for that matter, any electronic gadgets that can ease the work that the hands do….electric can-opener, electric jar opener, electric knife. Often these products can be found at discounted prices during this time of year.

electric kitchen pic.JPG

Gadgets and Gizmos

The OXO brand is a good example of a company that has designed products specifically for arthritic joints and those with hand pain.  The handles are larger and softer.  Bed, Bath and Beyond usually has a large display of the various kitchen tools.  WhateverWorks.com is a website with a paper catalog that offers functionally based produces.

oxo

Lazy Hands

I’m really liking this new product that provides a sure grip while easing the tension of holding larger smart phones.

lazy hands.jpg

A Good Book

Dr. Pascarelli, one of the leading experts on repetitive strain injuries, has written several easy-to-read but informative books including the Complete Guide to Repetitive Strain Injury: What You Need to Know About RSI and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome or Repetitive Strain Injury: A Computer User’s Guide

pascarelli

And a Few Bonus Gift Suggestions:

A Good Hot or Cold Pack

Both heat and cold can temporarily change the way that pain signals travel along the neural pathway to be recognized by the brain.  Cold is great for acute inflammation while heat can be good for more chronic pain, particularly a nervy type of pain.

elastogel

Download an App or Subscribe to a Program

Head Space, Breathe 2 Relax, Desk-Yogi, Stretch Break programs – there are many free and paid apps and subscriptions that can provide guidance in relaxation techniques, meditation and mindfulness programs, deep breathing techniques and stretching programs and stretches that will help reduce muscular stress and tension.

app pic

Enjoy your Thanksgiving break.  Happy shopping!  Marji

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How to host Thanksgiving Dinner with a Hand Injury

How to host Thanksgiving Dinner with a Hand Injury

The American Society for Surgery of the Hand has published some good tips on avoiding a hand injury while preparing your Thanksgiving meal (ASSH.org; Turkey Carving Safety). But…. what if you already have hand pain from a tendinitis, or arthritis, or carpal tunnel syndrome, or a recent hand or wrist sprain/fracture/injury?  Anticipating a full day of hand intensive activity when you are already in pain can be intimidating and anxiety-producing. Here are some survival tips to help those with hand injuries host the big event  without increasing pain. 

  1. Ask for help. Although this seems like common sense, it is often hard for a host to request help from his or her guests.  However, most family and friends would be more than happy to lend (a literal) hand. And don’t some of the best holiday moments actually take place in the steamy, fragrant kitchen?  Generate a party atmosphere -sipping something bubbly while chatting and sneaking food tastes- all while sharing the tasks of chopping, stirring and dish washing. Enlist someone who is strong and injury-free to lift the turkey out of the oven or perform the turkey carving. When someone offers to help with the dishes, accept gracefully. 
  2. Cut corners.  Less work=less hand stress=less pain. Thanksgiving should be about enjoying time with family and friends.  However, often Thanksgiving becomes all about the food. Large quantities of food. So much food, that we are obligated to overeat.  Be creative in finding ways to minimize the amount of work you actually need to do. Would anyone really be heart-broken if there were  fewer dishes on the table (as long as Mom’s famous stuffing is front and center)? Would anyone know if you used onions that were purchased already chopped?   Or if that apple pie was made from pre-sliced apples and prepared pie dough? Or, better yet, bought at a local bakery?  How about throwing tradition out for one year and planning a potluck?  Or purchasing a packaged dinner from the grocery store?  Could you use bottled gravy?   Can the butcher pre-cut the turkey so that smaller and lighter pans can be used for cooking?  Or, if it’s a small gathering, how about purchasing a turkey breast rather than the whole beast?
  3. Preparation is key. Plan ahead so hand intensive and possibly pain producing activities can be spaced out.  Design a menu that allows you to perform some early meal preparation over the 2-3 days preceding the holiday. Include house cleaning tasks and preparation into your Thanksgiving plan as well.  Perform heavier activities early in the week and complete only 1-2 a day.  The more you can pace your activities, the less physical and emotional stress on Thanksgiving day. 
  4. Gadgetize.  Dust off those kitchen tools. Use food processors, electric can and bottle openers, even an electric knife to reduce physical stress on the hands. 
  5. Minimize.  Ease stress on the body by following some general principles of joint protection and energy conservation: use leverage rather than grip (such as those “Y” shaped bottle openers); push rather than pull; slide rather than lift (use a dish towel on the counter to slide heavier pots and pans closer to the stove so you don’t have as far to carry them); use comfortably bigger and cushioned handles (the Oxo kitchen tool line is a good example). 
  6. Be practically festive.  Bring in some holiday cheer with a themed paper tablecloth and napkins (less laundry) and sturdy, decorative paper plates and paper or plastic glasses and stemware (fewer dishes). 
  7. Take time to care for yourself.  If, in spite of all your preparation and planning, your hands are more painful or swollen by the end of the day, sit for a few minutes, put your feet up and apply a cold pack.   Perform only the most necessary clean up. And aim to have a relaxing day the following day. Intending on carrying a bunch of shopping bags on Black Friday?….although fun, perhaps not the best timing for the hands.  

Wishing you and yours a healthy and happy Thanksgiving. 

Best, Marji

Hand Therapy & the “No Pain, No Gain” Fallacy

Even after many years of practicing as an occupational therapist specializing in hand and upper extremity rehabilitation, I’m continually surprised when our clients arrive at their initial visit assuming that therapists will cause them pain.  Before I even sit down with them for the first time, clients may already in a state of emotional distress that interferes with the therapeutic process: overly medicated with either prescription or non-prescription drugs or alcohol; overly angry or anxious or tearful; or with an entourage of friends and relatives and significant others surrounding them for support and protection.

Each time this happens, I tell myself that I shouldn’t be too shocked as our culture does tend to support the philosophies of “No Pain, No Gain” and “More is Always Better”.   And our clients’ reports of previous encounters with healthcare personnel demonstrate that these philosophies are alive and thriving in our medical community.  One common complaint I hear is of experiences with heavy-handed therapists resulting in physical bruising and actual nausea-inducing pain.  Several clients have shared discussions they have had with a physician who instructs them to wear splints that stretch a stiff joint “to the point that it brings you to tears”.   And recently, I’ve heard reports of a physician assistant who tells patients with repetitive strain injuries that they should have more pain following an exercise session or they are not performing the exercises correctly. 

To be fair, some joints do require a more forceful approach as do more established joint contractures.  Patients undergoing therapy for knee and shoulder injuries will often joke of seeing their physical or occupational “terrorist”.  But these joints often tolerate the trauma and the swelling caused by an aggressive approach much better than the hand does.  The hand has so many structures that are so perfectly aligned that any increase in trauma or swelling seems to impact the perfect balance of function.

I won’t lie and say that hand therapy is or should be completely pain-free.  As much as we don’t like pain, it does serve a purpose: pain serves as a warning system that something is wrong; pain helps us know how far to push our limits; pain encourages us to rest an injured body part for healing purposes.  As therapists, we are often dealing with recent injuries, wounds, swelling, trauma.  We often see people within the first few weeks of an injury.  Occasionally we will see people the day after a surgery.  In our quest to establish the best possible outcome for recovery, we may have clients performing activities or exercises in a controlled way that may intuitively seem wrong (yet we know will not compromise healing).  So it is normal that we do treat people who are in pain.  However, our goal with therapy should be to minimize and control pain while promoting healing.

If my expectation and purpose with therapy is to ignore or to actually promote pain, I will likely find that my treatment backfires.  If I’m “cranking” on a swollen and recently injured joint, I’m going to potentially create more stress to the injury, create more swelling, generate more scar formation, possibly promote a pain-syndrome that goes beyond the bounds of a normal pain response for that particular injury.  If a tendon is inflamed from overwork or a nerve is compressed and I have someone exercise to the point of pain, I’ve done nothing but further the damage by increasing stress on tissues that were already breaking down.

In my opinion, a program of gentle persistence will always trump aggression.  And we have good results following this philosophy.  For example, take a stiff joint to the end of the range of motion and then nudge into the tightness; perform that motion for 2-3 minutes every hour and you will create tissue change without creating an increase in physical stress to the injured structures.  When wearing a splint to stretch a tight joint, going for a lighter tension for a longer period of time will yield results more effectively than than a short, painful stretch.  And when dealing with inflamed tissues, performing gentle stretches and nerve glides for the irritated tissues while promoting muscular balance by exercising the opposing muscle groups and strengthening postural muscles will promote healing.

In spite of common belief, hand therapy does not necessarily need to be painful.  Hand therapists should not be feared.  We can achieve good results in the clinic with persistence rather than aggressiveness.  The relief people feel is palpable when they realize that we are here to listen, collaborate, sympathize, share and educate rather than to “crank” on them.

Paraffin Bath – Good for Scars, Joint Pain

We often use heat as a modality in the hand therapy clinic to warm up the hands in preparation for therapy.  A paraffin bath is one of the more intense forms of applying heat.

During the hot wax treatment, the hand is immersed in a “spa” of melted paraffin mixed with mineral oil.  The oil lowers the melting point of the wax (to about 120 degrees) and makes it tolerable for the body part to be immersed.  The hand is dipped 4-5 times with a brief pause in-between dips to let the wax set.  This layering creates a thicker coating of wax.  After the last dip, a plastic bag is placed around the waxed hand; then towels are wrapped over the plastic to hold the heat in for 5-10 minutes.  Because of the oil in the paraffin, it slides off the hand smoothly when the treatment is complete, leaving the hands feeling soft, moisturized and warm.

The Paraffin Bath is useful for several conditions.  

  • The intense heat is good for circulation.  
  • The penetrating heat can ease aching.  
    • It is often used in arthritic conditions with good relief of joint pain.
    • Aching from chronic repetitive injuries may also respond well to the wax treatment. 
  • Stiff joints will feel more flexible after an application of wax.  
    • Good for arthritic stiffness.
    • Also works well with stiffness caused by fractures, dislocations and other trauma.
  • Scars respond well to the heat and the coating of mineral oil, making them softer and more pliable in preparation for scar massage techniques.

Do not use a paraffin bath in the following situations:

  • If there is numbness in the hand.  
  • If you have an open wound.
  • If you have an injury that is acute, hot, swollen, inflamed.

To keep the paraffin bath as clean as possible, wash your hands well and dry them thoroughly before immersing in the wax.  If you have purchased your own machine, you can re-use the wax (however, we do not re-use wax in the clinic).  

Paraffin Baths are easily available, both online and in local stores and pharmacies.  Simple and small home units are priced around $40.  A larger, more durable model can range in price from about $80 to close to $200.  

It is possible to make your own bath at home using an old pot in a double boiler or an old crock pot set on low.  This can take a bit of time each session for the wax to melt.  Once melted, turn off the heat and monitor the temperature until the correct temperature is achieved.  It is important to use a thermometer to make sure that the wax is not too hot in order to avoid burns. The temperature should be 120-125 degrees. 

Recipe:

  • 2-4 blocks of paraffin
  • 1 ounce of mineral oil for each block of paraffin
  • drops of essential or scented oils as desired (optional)

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Trigger Finger – Repetitive Strain Finger Pain

Mouse and keyboard use can cause finger pain. One common cause of finger pain is called trigger finger. Trigger finger is a swelling of the tendon or tendon sheath in the palm of the hand of the tendons that bend the fingers. This swelling prevents the tendon from gliding smoothly through the sheath and the “pulley” (ligament) which holds the tendon to the bone. Trigger finger occurs most frequently in the middle finger and the ring finger, but it can occur in any finger or the thumb.SYMPTOMS

  • A locking, snapping, popping or catching sensation in the finger while making a fist.
  • This “triggering” of the finger can be quite painful at times.
  • The finger may “lock” into a bent position.
  • There will most likely be pain or tenderness in the palm of the hand over the site of the pulley which holds the tendon close to the bone.
  • There may be joint stiffness and pain in the affected finger.

OCCUPATIONAL CAUSES

  • Repetitively gripping or bending and straightening the fingers (e.g. – mouse clicking)
  • Sustained gripping (e.g. – squeezing the mouse forcefully or holding a pen in a “death grip”)
  • Using tools that have handles with sharp or hard edges

ERGONOMICS

  • Avoid repetitive grasping and releasing of objects. Modify the activity if you are unable to avoid it. Look for ergonomic mice or larger barreled pens. Change your typing style so that your fingers are relaxed on the keyboard and mouse.
  • Avoid sustained grasp.
  • Keep the fingers relaxed over the keyboard. Do not plant your wrist down on the wrist rest while typing as this causes excessive and stressful finger movements to reach all the keys. Rather, the wrist should glide over the wrist rest, allowing the fingers to be positioned over the keys in a relaxed manner.
  • Purchase tools with padded, comfortable handles.
  • Handles should have some texture for easier holding. Slippery surfaces require more forceful grasping.
  • Minimize repetition. Periodically rest the hands during repetitive or stressful activity. Stretch frequently during repetitive activity.
  • Slow down!
  • Use the lightest grip possible (on tools, pens, the mouse, the steering wheel, etc.) that still allows you to maintain good control.
  • Use the least amount of force necessary during the activity.
  • Use the appropriate tool for the job.
  • Use ergonomically designed tools if available (modified or padded handles, larger grips with good traction, handles with modified designs).
  • Make sure that tools are in good condition and that cutting edges are sharp (reduces the force needed to use the tool).
  • Alternate work activities so the hands are not performing any one task repetitively for any length of time.

And It Hurts…Here…Because? Ergonomic Recommendations

The location of where you are experiencing pain while working at a desk or on a computer can often give clues as to what needs to be adjusted during an ergonomic intervention.  Here is a quick guide of worksite and work-method recommendations that may help when you are feeling pain in a specific area.

Finger Pain – May indicate arthritic joints, a trigger finger, or strain from overuse.  Avoid squeezing the mouse too hard or pounding the keyboard.  Keep a light touch when typing.  Hold your pen lightly when writing.

Thumb Pain– May indicate a trigger thumb or DeQuervain’s Tenosynovitis.  Often occurs from either squeezing the mouse too hard or from tensing the thumb (as if hitch-hiking) over the keyboard keys.  Keep the thumbs relaxed using only the minimal amount of force needed to control the mouse.  When typing, keep the thumbs relaxed and just hovering over the keyboard.  Don’t pound the space bar.  Also, when writing, use a larger-barreled pen and don’t squeeze the pen too tightly.  Keep the thumb tip relaxed and only slightly bent – it is common for people write with their thumb tips bent at an extreme angle.

Wrist Pain or Pain at the Base of the Hand/Thumb– May indicate a tendinitis where the wrist muscles attach (flexor or extensor tendinitis), DeQuervain’s Tenosynovitis, or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.  These are often caused by swiveling the mouse in or by poor wrist positioning.  Keep the wrist neutral (flat – not bent forward or back or angled side-to-side; the middle finger should be in a parallel line with the forearm).  Initiate small movements to control the mouse from the elbow and shoulder.   Don’t squeeze the mouse too tightly – use only the minimal amount of force necessary to control it.  Check your keyboard size and fit.  Pain over the small finger side of the wrist is often caused by the outward angulation of the wrist required to rest your hand on the home keys.  Using an ergonomic split keyboard is a quick-and-easy way to provide neutral wrist positioning.

Elbow Pain – May indicate an inflammation where the forearm muscles attach into the upper arm bone at the elbow – Medial or Lateral Epicondylitis.  Can also be caused by several nerve compression syndromes that occur near the elbow – Cubital Tunnel Syndrome, Radial Tunnel Syndrome.  Check out the positioning of the keyboard height and mouse location.  When working at a computer, your ear, shoulder and elbow should be stacked in a vertical alignment.  If your elbow is not relaxed at your side, you may need to change positioning by lowering the keyboard surface or getting in closer to your desk.  The elbow should not be bent at more than a 90 degree angle while using the computer.  A mouse that positions the arm in a more neutral “hand-shake” position may also be helpful.  Don’t swivel the mouse from the wrist.  Also, keep the hand relaxed on the mouse and use only the smallest amount of force necessary to activate the mouse click.  Don’t hold the index finger stiffly over the mouse (as if pointing) and don’t pound the mouse buttons, especially with a straight finger.  Rather, keep the index finger slightly bent and lightly touching the mouse.

Shoulder Pain – Often caused by reaching forward for long periods of time for the keyboard or mouse.  When working at a computer, your ear, shoulder and elbow should be stacked in a vertical alignment.  If your elbow is not relaxed at your side, you may be reaching forward causing strain on the arm muscles.  It takes work to hold the arm in this position for long periods of time even if the work itself is not too forceful.  To keep the upper arm muscles more relaxed, you may need to lower the keyboard surface or get in closer to your desk.  Check your chair.  Are you sitting back in the char?  Does it provide proper lumbar support and seat depth?  Look at the arm rest height.  You may need to lower the arm rests in order to keep the shoulders relaxed.

Neck Pain, Eye-Strain & Headaches – Often caused by poor positioning of the monitor.  Position the monitor directly in front of the keyboard so you are not twisting the body while using the computer.  Check out the height and distance of the monitor.  It may need to be adjusted so that you can clearly see the monitor print without tipping the head forward or back.  Avoid using bifocals while on the computer.  If you work extensively from copy, keep the copy in front of the monitor or directly to each side.  Use a tray that holds the copy close to monitor height to avoid repetitively looking up-and-down from the copy to the monitor.  Use a phone headset to avoid cradling the phone between the shoulder and the ear if you need to type and talk at the same time.

Pain-Free Mousing

When performing ergonomic assessments, the main factors that I have found that contribute to mousing pain include:

  • Mouse Positioning
  • Mouse Movement
  • Muscular Tension When Using the Mouse
  • Forearm Position

Here are some tips to help reduce your risk of developing a repetitive strain injury or tendinitis from mouse use.
MOUSE POSITIONING

Causes of Pain

  • Reaching forward for the mouse onto a desk that is higher than the keyboard.
  • Reaching for a mouse placed to the far side of the keyboard.

Tips for Preventing Pain

  • Position the mouse in a more comfortable and ergonomic location
    • Use an attachable mouse holder that adjusts to fit over numerical key pad (if you do not use the 10-key) or as closely to it as possible.
    • Or use a keyboard bridge over the numerical keys if you do not use the 10-key portion of the keyboard.
    • Or use a keyboard station such as the Contour Roller Pro which has a rollerbar mouse that is positioned immediately below the space bar of the keyboard.

MOUSE MOVEMENT

Causes of Pain

  • Excessive wrist or arm movement when activating the mouse.
  • Planting the wrist down and swiveling the mouse using wrist motion.
  • Planting the wrist down placing pressure against the carpal tunnel.
  • Bending the wrist backward (extended) when using the mouse.

Tips for Preventing Pain

  • The mouse should be at about the same level of the keyboard and positioned as closely to the keyboard as possible.
  • Avoid reaching forward, up, or out to the side when using the mouse. Position the mouse to avoid these movements (see mouse positioning tips).
  • Activate the mouse by using small movements from the shoulder and elbow muscles rather than the wrist muscles.

Ergonomics

  • Keep the shoulders relaxed.
  • The elbow should be held loosely at the side in a direct line under the shoulder.
  • The wrist should be held in a neutral position (not bent forward or back or angled to one side or the other).
  • Do not plant the wrist down on that desk or on a wrist rest. Glide the wrist over surfaces always maintaining the neutral position.

MUSCULAR TENSION WHEN USING THE MOUSE

Causes of Pain

  • Forcefully squeezing the mouse between the thumb and small finger.
  • Forcefully activating the mouse buttons or switches.

Tips for Preventing Pain

  • Hold the mouse as lightly as you can while still maintaining control.
  • Keep the fingers held loosely against buttons and switches, not floating tensely in the air.
  • Do not pound mouse buttons or forcefully squeeze switches. Use only the lightest force necessary to activate controls.
  • Using a wireless mouse can eliminate the tension of pulling against the cord (even these small tensions add up by the end of the day).
  • Use a mouse and mouse pad that can be switched easily from the right to the left hand to share the work load between the two hands.
  • A keyboard station such as the Contour Roller Pro that incorporates a rollerbar mouse eliminates the need to hold the mouse.
  • Research mousing options such as the NoHands foot-activated mouse or a head-activated mouse placed in a baseball cap.
  • Perform forearm and wrist stretches throughout the day.
  • Gently stretch the thumb into the hitch-hiking position.

FOREARM POSITIONING

Causes of Pain

  • The forearm rotated into the palm-down position for long periods of time.

Tips for Preventing Pain

  • Vertical mice are good choices as the hand shake position with the forearm neutral rather than palm down can relieve forearm stress.
  • Stretch into the palm-up position throughout the day.