Hand aids for arthritis: Self-Help Arthritis Devices
Top Tools: Assistive Devices to Help Manage Daily Life with Arthritis
“I get by with a little help from my friends,” is a classic song lyric worth humming—and why not add in your own line about a little help from assistive devices too? When you’re living with arthritis, there are a number of simple tools that can help you go about your daily life with less pain and frustration. “Assistive devices can help decrease the stress on a joint, making an activity easier, safer, less tiring and way less frustrating,” says Ilene Cohen-Ackerman, an Arthritis Society occupational therapist and clinical practice lead. She adds that using the right device can help you keep your independence and, in many cases, keep doing activities that you love.
Opening doors, drawers and gas tanks
If you have arthritis in your hands or wrists, first consider changing your home’s door knobs to lever styles, which don’t require as much force to turn so are easier on your joints. (Lever handles are good for taps too.) However, if you don’t want to change the door knobs, buy non-slip rubber door knob covers that stretch over the door knob and give you more grip, says Cohen-Ackerman. A big, wide rubber band, or short piece of a rubber exercise band can also do the trick, and it’s easy to keep in your wallet or pocket.
“You could spend 20 minutes doing up buttons in the morning if you don’t have the dexterity in your fingers any more, or you could use a device like a button hook, which makes it easier and quicker,” says Cohen-Ackerman. “You’re not using up all your energy.” A key ring on a zipper tab (such as a jacket zipper) allows you to hook a finger through and pull, rather than a more difficult pincer grip between your thumb and finger.
Having a bath
Make your shower or bath a safer place to be by having grab bars installed in the tub or shower, so you have something sturdy to hold on to when you’re getting in and out. Bath seats are also a good idea if you have arthritis in your lower extremities and don’t feel secure standing.
Cooking, baking and gardening
Choose kitchen utensils and garden tools that have enlarged handles, which put less strain on your joints. You can also buy knives with angled handles that make it easier to grip. A tool called a jar key is handy—it breaks the vacuum seal on jar lids, so you don’t need as much force to open them. Slip a small rubber mat under a bowl or casserole dish so you can keep it in place without having to hold onto it. Garden tools with longer handles minimize reaching and bending. You can also try using flexible foam tubing (used for pipe insulation and available in different sizes at hardware stores) as a way to cushion and enlarge tool handles.
Writing, reading, playing cards and driving
An enlarged non-slip pen grip that slips over your regular pen eases the strain on your finger joints because they don’t have to bend as much. “If you’re an avid card player, a card holder is your best friend,” says Cohen-Ackerman, adding that a book holder is excellent for readers too. “It’s the static holding, or holding something still for a long time, that is so hard on hands.” A key extender makes your key longer, essentially turning it into a lever that you can more easily grip and turn with your whole hand, rather than a more difficult pincer grip.
Walking and standing
If you have arthritis in your hips, knees, ankles or feet, it’s important to do proper muscle strengthening so that your muscles can hold the joint properly, says Cohen-Ackerman. However, stretchy compression sleeves or rigid braces can be a good complement to help support a sore joint. If you’re using a cane, make sure you’re using it properly. “You use a cane on the ‘good’ side of your body, so when you take a step with your bad leg, the cane takes some of the weight off the affected joint,” she says. Pay attention to cane height too: “When you’re standing up straight, the top of the handle should be at wrist height. When you hold the handle, your elbow is bent at about 30 degrees.”
“There are so many devices available now and they’re becoming really mainstream, not clinical-looking,” says Cohen-Ackerman. Talk to an occupational therapist about the kind of assistive devices that would be helpful for your kind of arthritis.
For more tips and tricks, visit the Arthritis Society’s Daily Living online module.
Hand Tools You Can Use If You Have Rheumatoid Arthritis
If you’re living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you may know the role that chronic inflammation plays in creating swelling and painful joints — including the joints in your hands.
While the goal of RA treatment is to reduce inflammation and pain, you may also want to consider other ways you can minimize pain in your hands, while also improving overall movement and dexterity so you can continue with your daily activities and hobbies more comfortably.
There are numerous assistive and pain management devices available to help you manage RA symptoms in your hands. Check out the following items, and learn how they may be able to reduce pain and improve your overall quality of life.
Before considering assistive devices, it may be helpful to address the source of inflammation first. Even if you’re currently taking medications such as steroids or disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) to help reduce inflammation-induced pain in your joints, your hands may benefit from the extra support of compression gloves.
When looking for compression gloves for RA, consider those that are light enough to wear all day — and perhaps even at night to help you sleep better. Breathable fabrics, such as cotton, also tend to work well in all seasons to help prevent sweat. Also, some versions are fingerless, while others cover your fingers.
Consider the following options:
- ComfyBrace Arthritis Gloves. These affordable, and highly rated gloves are fingerless and are made with a cotton-spandex blend to provide compression and comfort with everyday activities.
- Big Mango Full-Finger Compression Gloves. If you want to cover your fingers for additional support, consider these highly rated copper gloves that also have touch-screen tips for using your electronic devices.
Unlike traditional spoons, knives, and forks used for eating, adaptive utensils — especially those with rubber or foam handles — might help relieve the pain and frustration you may experience while trying to eat your food.
Adaptive utensils with texturized handles may help with easy gripping. Utensils lightweight enough for you to hold them without using a lot of exertion could help you experience less pain and inflammation. Also, wider handles might help support reduced hand grip strength.
Here are two such options to help you get started:
- BunMo Set of 4 Adaptive Utensils. This stainless steel set features foam handles with texturized grips designed for easy use. It also comes with a travel case, so you may easily take your utensils with you outside your home to eat.
- Special Supplies Adaptive Utensils. This five-piece set is dishwasher safe, and is made with stainless steel and silicone handles for easy gripping. The company also offers a choice of gray or black handles.
While adaptive utensils might help you feel more comfortable and less frustrated while eating food, there are other everyday items that could also use wider, more comfortable handles. This is where foam tubing grips may help.
Available in a variety of diameters, lengths, and colors, foam tubing grips are designed to help make it easier to hold personal care items and improve overall dexterity during use. Possible uses include your toothbrush, comb, writing utensils, and more.
When looking for foam tubing grips, consider looking for a set with a variety of sizes so you can use them for multiple items. Different colors can also help you better identify your personal care items.
Check out these affordable foam tubing grip sets:
- Vive Foam Tubing (9-pack)
- Full Foam Tubing (8-pack)
- Impresa Foam Tubing (6-pack)
Getting dressed might be difficult when you have RA, especially if you’re experiencing inflammation and pain in your hands that may make seemingly “simple” tasks, such as buttoning a shirt or putting on shoes, more challenging.
Consider the following types of devices that might help you maintain your independence and ease comfort while getting dressed:
Dressing sticks are designed to help you put on shirts, jackets, and pants with ease. This might help relieve pain when gripping clothing items with your fingers and thumbs. Look for a device that comes with multiple cup hooks, such as this best-seller from Royal Medical Solutions.
Depending on your needs, you may also consider a multipurpose dressing stick and shoehorn, such as this 35-inch highly rated model by JJDParts.
Zipper pulls and button fasteners
Gripping a tiny metal zipper and pulling it up and down your jacket or pants may become increasingly difficult with RA, just as dealing with buttons might feel too painful.
While zipper or button-free clothing items can be helpful if you have a dressing stick, you may still need to deal with the occasional zipper or button on your favorite clothing items.
This is where a zipper pull might help. You generally have two options: pull tabs that attach and stay on your zippers, or this highly rated button hook and zipper pull 2-in-1 device.
Sock aids and shoehorns
Pulling on socks or compression stockings might be challenging with RA. Consider this sock aid with foam handles, designed to help make the process less painful.
Also, just as you might need help pulling on your socks, you may want to try aids for easier removal, too. Check out this removal sock aid made by Royal Medical Solutions.
While slide-on shoes and slippers tend to be easier with RA, you may still need to put on dress shoes, boots, or sneakers. A long-handled shoehorn designed for arthritis, such as this one, might help.
Aside from devices that may help you eat, groom yourself, and get dressed, there are other types of aids that might make other everyday tasks easier. These can include assistive devices in the kitchen, bathroom, and living room, such as:
- Reaching tools are designed for picking up items with ease, and for giving your hands support while cleaning. Look for long-handled grabber-reachers, such as this highly rated version from Royal Medical Solutions.
- Kitchen aids might help you open cans, bottles, and jars, such as this multipurpose set from Kagdida.
- Smart home options, such as light switches and thermostats, are designed for you to control them with your smart device.
When you’re experiencing an RA flare in your hands, you may want to consider having supportive items designed to help you complete everyday tasks safely and with less pain. This can include compression gloves made to reduce inflammation, as well as a variety of assistive devices.
You may also consider telling your doctor about different tasks that may be uncomfortable due to hand and finger joint pain. In addition to your treatment plan, they may refer you to an occupational therapist for support.
How to help treat rheumatoid arthritis: symptoms and causes of the disease
Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common joint disease that occurs in young and middle-aged people. If left untreated, it leads to joint damage and other complications, but modern methods allow most patients to maintain physical fitness and live a full life.
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What is rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects the joints and other organs in humans. Typical symptoms and signs are pain, a feeling of stiffness and swelling in the diseased joint. Left untreated, rheumatoid arthritis often destroys joints and causes disability. It is also possible to damage other organs and systems of the body, and even premature death of the patient. Early initiation of treatment using modern methods and drugs slows down the progress of the disease, reduces the risk of complications and makes it possible to live a full life.
The basis of the disease is an inflammatory process that begins inside the joint. A certain factor gradually begins to stimulate the synovial articular membrane and an inflammatory reaction occurs. With the course of the disease, neighboring structures increase and collapse.
The primary symptoms are pain and swelling, but if medical measures are not taken, then there is a threat of irreversible destruction and loss of joint mobility. The defeat of the constituent parts of the joint leads to the appearance of secondary regressive symptoms. The causes of rheumatoid arthritis are not known for certain even today. Most likely, in order to provoke the development of the disease, a symbiosis of multiple factors is necessary. The most significant:
genetic predisposition: the hereditary factor is not paramount, therefore, the presence of rheumatoid arthritis in one of the close relatives does not mean that the children will be sick, but the risk is many times higher;
immune defects: recognition by the body of its tissues as “enemies” and the production of autoimmune antibodies that are aimed at destroying these structures;
gender: women are more likely to develop this disease than men;
foci of infection in the body: certain bacteria and viruses can cause an inflammatory reaction in the form of rheumatoid arthritis;
stress: sometimes there is a rapid development of the disease after a strong shock experienced.
In highly developed countries, rheumatoid arthritis affects an average of 1 out of 100 people, women get sick more often. Arthritis usually begins to progress at the age of 30-50 years, sometimes there are cases of the disease at an earlier or later age.
Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis
In most patients, rheumatoid arthritis develops insidiously. It may take several weeks or even months before the symptoms become severe enough to prompt medical attention. Rarely there is a sudden onset of the disease.
Initially, general flu-like symptoms often occur, such as feeling weak, low-grade fever, muscle aches, loss of appetite, and weight loss. They may precede or accompany joint symptoms. During the illness, damage to other organs can also occur. The disease usually affects the same areas on both sides of the body. Initially, these are small joints of the hands and feet, and as the disease progresses, many other joints. An unusual onset of the disease is inflammation of one large joint or the spread of the disease to many joints.
Symptoms of arthritis include:
pain and stiffness;
soreness of the joint to pressure;
limitation of joint mobility;
Rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic disease that affects not only the joints, but also many organs. In addition to the relatively common benign lesions such as rheumatoid nodules or dryness, severe complications leading to premature death (such as stroke or heart attack) can very rarely occur. Rheumatoid nodules are painless subcutaneous nodules, most commonly located around the elbows, knuckles, and other places subject to pressure, they can also form in the internal organs.
Diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis
A doctor diagnoses rheumatoid arthritis based on a combination of characteristic symptoms with laboratory and imaging findings. In 2010 new classification criteria have been developed that allow rheumatoid arthritis to be diagnosed early and treated before irreversible joint destruction occurs.
Laboratory tests are used to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis, predict the severity of the disease, and control its course. The doctor may also do other blood, urine, or synovial fluid tests to rule out other joint problems and evaluate the function of various internal organs (eg, kidneys, liver).
If rheumatoid arthritis is suspected, x-rays of the hands and feet and possibly other affected joints are taken. X-ray changes characteristic of this disease include swelling of the soft tissues and a decrease in bone density around the joint, the presence of bone defects (erosions), narrowing of the joint spaces, and, in later periods, joint deformities. At the onset of the disease, magnetic resonance imaging and ultrasound are useful, which can detect inflammatory changes earlier than x-rays. In some cases, computed tomography helps.
Treatment of rheumatoid arthritis
Treatment methods for rheumatoid arthritis have changed significantly in recent years due to the emergence of new effective drugs. Currently, the emphasis is on the early use of disease-modifying drugs. Increasingly, this results in remission or low disease activity.
Successful treatment of rheumatoid arthritis means resolution of symptoms, a good quality of life, and continued fitness. In addition to the main drug treatment, with this disease, it is important to start early rehabilitation, and in some cases, surgical treatment. Specific drugs are prescribed by a rheumatologist, taking into account the severity of the disease and its activity, prognostic indicators and contraindications to the use of certain drugs. It is important to develop an effective treatment plan with your doctor, which includes regular visits and laboratory tests to evaluate the effectiveness and possible side effects of the drugs used.
Disease-modifying drugs play a fundamental role in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, as they not only relieve symptoms, but above all, prevent joint destruction, allowing you to keep fit and function normally in daily life. They should be used as soon as possible after diagnosis to prevent irreversible changes in the joints. However, these drugs do not provide a complete cure – after their withdrawal, the disease usually recurs.
The most common drugs in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis are:
Recently, targeted synthetic drugs that inhibit inflammatory pathways (tofacitinib, baricitinib, upadacitinib) have also joined innovative treatments for RA, the advantages of which lie in oral administration. The effect of innovative drugs is noticeable somewhat faster, usually within 2-6 weeks. Glucocorticoids also quickly reduce the symptoms of arthritis and inhibit the process of their destruction, so they are often used at the onset of the disease and during its exacerbations. Due to the many side effects, the goal should be to lower the dose as soon as possible and use them for the shortest possible time. These drugs can also be injected directly into the joint. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs reduce the symptoms of arthritis, but do not stop the progression of the disease, therefore they are used only as an aid in the fight against pain and stiffness in the joints. They have many side effects such as gastrointestinal bleeding, kidney damage, and an increased risk of heart disease. You can not take more than one drug from this group and exceed the recommended doses. Analgesics such as paracetamol are used if pain persists despite basic treatment.
For all patients, in addition to the use of medications, the following points are very important.
Psychological support. Remember that an illness that is often associated with pain and disability can also cause frustration, dependency, and even depression.
Rest. Fatigue is a common symptom of rheumatoid arthritis, especially during its active period. Allow yourself to rest: a short daytime nap will help restore strength and improve your well-being.
Physical exercise. Patients with RA often refuse any physical activity, which leads to decreased joint mobility, contractures, and muscle weakness.
Orthopedic equipment. Helps relieve sore joints and cope with disability. These are canes, crutches, walkers, wheelchairs to facilitate movement, stabilizers for hands, knee and ankle joints (so-called orthoses) that help maintain the correct position of the joints, orthopedic insoles for shoes that improve the structure of the foot and unload bearing joints when walking.
Adaptation of the environment to disability. For example, specially adapted kitchen appliances, furniture, handles to help you get up, an adapted car – they will help to fully function.
Proper nutrition. Maintaining a healthy body weight. Both overweight and obesity should be avoided, as well as malnutrition, which weakens the body and leads to muscle wasting. It is also important to provide the bones with the right amount of calcium and vitamin D, as rheumatoid arthritis greatly accelerates the development of osteoporosis.
Stopping smoking, which increases the risk of developing and severe disease.
Regular physical activity prevents some adverse changes in the joints and even reverses them. Exercises that increase range of motion and strengthen muscles, help maintain joint mobility and stability, and exercises that improve overall performance (eg, walking, swimming, cycling) are recommended. The exercise program should be developed by a physiotherapist and adjusted individually for each patient, depending on the stage of the disease, the person’s condition and concomitant diseases.
However, everything should be in moderation. You should refrain from exercise during the period of exacerbation of symptoms of the disease.
The sooner you start targeted rehabilitation, the easier it will be to prevent joint deformity and disability. Physical therapy, various techniques such as cryotherapy, ultrasound, massage and balneotherapy help to reduce pain and inflammation in the joints and relax the muscular system, their use requires a careful assessment of the state of health and consideration of possible contraindications.
Topical treatment for rheumatoid arthritis is directed directly at the affected joint. His methods include puncture of the joint to decompress the accumulated inflammatory fluid and the introduction of anti-inflammatory drugs inside. These are procedures that remove the altered synovium. There are different ways to perform them: surgical, chemical or using a radioisotope. Various types of corrective and reconstructive procedures aimed at improving the structure and functioning of deformed joints and arthroplasty, that is, replacing a damaged joint with an artificial prosthesis, can also be attributed to such methods.
Is it possible to completely cure rheumatoid arthritis
Currently, the cure for rheumatoid arthritis, i.e. the absence of the disease without the need for drug treatment, is very rare. The disease usually recurs after discontinuation of DMARD. Available treatments are increasingly able to achieve disease remission and normal functioning.
Unfortunately, in some patients (about 10-20%) the disease progresses despite treatment. Remission often occurs in pregnant women, but most often the disease worsens within 3 months after childbirth. Rheumatoid arthritis is still associated with frequent disability: it is estimated that after 5 years, about half of patients lose their ability to work, and after 10 years, almost all. Patients live several years less than the general population, mainly due to the complications of atherosclerosis. It is likely that with earlier detection of rheumatoid arthritis and more effective treatment, this statistic will improve in the future.
What should I do after my treatment for rheumatoid arthritis is over?
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease that requires constant rheumatological control. At the onset of the disease and during its exacerbations, frequent visits to the doctor are necessary (on average every 1-3 months) to determine the appropriate doses of drugs and achieve remission of the disease. During the stable period, visits may be less frequent (usually every six months).
The activity and progression of the disease is assessed on the basis of the severity of clinical symptoms (the number of affected joints, the severity of pain, quality of life scales) and the results of laboratory tests (ESR, CRP, complete blood count), and x-ray studies (X-ray). It is also important to detect side effects of drugs, i.e. assessment of kidney, liver and bone marrow function, periodic examinations for the presence of concomitant diseases (abdominal ultrasound, chest x-ray, mammography, gynecological examination). In connection with the accelerated development of atherosclerosis, an assessment of cardiovascular risk is necessary and, if necessary, appropriate prevention and treatment. It is also important to remember to treat osteoporosis early to reduce the risk of bone fractures. In addition to visits to a rheumatologist, the patient should participate in targeted rehabilitation sessions and perform recommended exercises at home.
What should be done to prevent rheumatoid arthritis?
Unfortunately, it is currently impossible to prevent the occurrence of rheumatoid arthritis, but early detection and treatment of the disease allows for more and more frequent long-term remissions. Unfortunately, the onset of rheumatoid arthritis is often insidious and it often takes several months for proper treatment to take place, so don’t put off seeing your doctor if you develop symptoms of arthritis.
Occupational therapy for rheumatoid arthritis | Cochrane
Does occupational therapy help people with rheumatoid arthritis?
To answer this question, the researchers analyzed 38 studies. The studies included 1700 people with rheumatoid arthritis. People were either counseled, trained in skills, taught to move or do daily activities with less pain, taught to protect their joints, given splints, taught to use assistive devices, or given no help at all. Not all studies were of high quality, but this Cochrane review provides the best evidence available for occupational therapy.
What is occupational therapy and how can it help with rheumatoid arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease in which the body’s immune system attacks its healthy tissues. The attack occurs mainly in the joints of the feet and hands and causes redness, pain, swelling and fever around the joint. People with rheumatoid arthritis have difficulty doing everyday activities such as dressing, cooking, cleaning, and working. Occupational therapists can give advice on how to do everyday activities with less pain, as well as how to use splints and assistive devices.
How well does it work?
A high-quality study found that people were able to perform daily activities better after receiving occupational therapy, training, advice and counseling. Two high-quality studies showed that people who were given advice on how to protect their joints were able to perform day-to-day work better than people who received no counseling or other occupational therapy. But both of these treatments did not help to improve well-being or relieve pain.
Another high-quality study showed that people who were trained in motor skills or daily activities could move just as well and with the same level of pain as those who did not receive occupational therapy. Their grip strength also improved immediately after wearing the splint. However, hand movements were limited after wearing the splint.
There was not enough information to say whether advice on using assistive devices was helpful.
What is the point?
There is gold-level evidence that occupational therapy can help people with rheumatoid arthritis perform daily activities such as dressing, cooking, and cleaning with less pain. Benefits have been noted with occupational therapy, which includes training, advice and counseling, and joint protection advice.