As an Occupational Therapist working in the outpatient setting, there are multiple statements that I hear daily regarding my patient’s hands. Here are a few of the most common ones…
- “My hands hurt!”
- “I’ve got this finger that gets stuck.”
- “My hands fall asleep at night.”
- “The base of my thumb hurts.”
- “My hands ache ALL DAY!”
- “It has been like this for years, what could therapy do for me?”
There are a lot of reasons why your hands hurt. And yes, therapy can help!
The purpose of this blog is to provide you with some helpful information regarding your hands (and body in general) and to give you some general tips on how to make your hands feel better.
First things first. Listen to your body. It will always tell you when something is wrong. One of a doctor’s and therapist’s favorite sayings is “If it hurts, don’t do it!” If your body is telling you something is wrong, then do not keep doing it! Remember the old saying “No pain, no gain?” For the most part, throw that saying out the window. Your body will give you signals that something is wrong. If you push past that signal, you could potentially make things worse.
Here are just a few things (symptoms/signals) that your body will do to let you something is wrong.
- Abnormal Bumps
- Numbness and Tingling
Please, do not ignore these symptoms/signals. With that being said, you do not need to go to your doctor or therapist with every tiny bump and bruise, it is more of the significant or abnormal ones that are important. You get what I am saying, right?
Secondly, just because your brother’s, neighbor’s, father’s, co-worker’s daughter (did you catch all of that? Ha. Ha), was diagnosed with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome when their wrist hurt does NOT mean that you have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome because your wrist hurts. You should not treat it the same way. Go ahead and “Google”, your symptoms (we all do that when are looking for answers to something); but, please, do NOT self-diagnose yourself without consulting with a medical professional. Most medial professions prefer you to ask them instead of “Googling it” anyways due to the lack of reliability and validity on so many websites. Always seek advice from your Primary Care Physician (PCP) or your Occupational or Physical Therapist for guidance. This is what we are trained in!
Now that you have been to the doctor and have been diagnosed with a common diagnosis, such as arthritis, here is another important tip to remember. Do not go to your friend Jane’s house and do the same exercises she was given in therapy just because she had the same diagnosis. Every patient’s treatment plan is unique to them. As a therapist, we treat multiple cases of the same diagnoses; however, not every patient fits into the same mold. Everyone has different levels of movement, pain, and overall abilities.
That leads me to my next point. We are ALL DIFFERENT. You may respond completely differently than your best friend that had the same diagnosis or surgery. There are multiple different reasons and factors why some people respond so well to therapy/surgery and others do not. Here are just a few of the reasons:
- Different ages.
- Different sex.
- Heathy? Overweight?
- Patient A is a smoker and drinker, Patient B is not.
- Some patients have a lot of comorbidities that will slow down or hinder their healing, others do not.
- Pain tolerance. Some patients have high levels of pain tolerance; others have low levels.
- Dedication to therapy and home exercise programs.
- The patient’s ability to listen to the advice of their doctors and therapists.
So, do not be discouraged if you are not recovering as quickly as your best friend, Jane. Everyone is different.
Now that you hopefully understand the importance of seeking medical advice, listening to your body and recognizing that everyone is different; here are some general ways to help those painful/achy hands.
- Rest. Simply that. Rest. Your hands are small. They are a beautiful little intricate web of muscle, ligaments, tendons, and multiple other supporting structures. They are not a large, strong muscle group like your back or legs. The joints are small. The muscles are small and so are all the supporting structures. We, as everyday humans, demand a lot of our hands. It is easy for them to get tired and worn out. Allow them the time to rest.
- Use heat or cold. Yes, you read that right. Research supports both modalities. For the majority of the population, you will not hurt yourself if you apply heat or cold to your hands for 8-15 minutes per day, a couple of times a day. This should provide relief.
- Stretch. It is great to allow those little joints to be comfortably stretched. A good stretch is to put your fingertips together (left fingertips onto the R fingertips) and push in towards each other. Hold this stretch for a good 20-30 seconds and then repeat 5-10x.
- Break up your activities. Slow down. You do not have to paint the entire room in one hour or weed your entire garden in a 2-hour time slot. Do a little bit, take a break, and then do a little bit more. Finish that task tomorrow. I get it, this will take some getting used to; but, trust me, your hands will thank you.
- Splints. Please seek consultation from your MD or therapist on this. There are multiple, great splints out there that help heal and provide relief to your hands.
In conclusion, take time to listen to your body, love on your hands and seek help from a medical professional if you need it. Your hands will thank you. Be well, my friends, and take care of those hands.