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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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).
- 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.