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30/Jul/2020

….your hands!

Did you know that each of your hands has 27 bones, 27 joints, 34 muscles, and over 100 ligaments and tendons?

They really are amazing, complex and delicate structures. And we often take them for granted – until something happens – we hit our thumb with a hammer, we slam a finger in a drawer or we develop a musculoskeletal condition 😣.

Many conditions such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis cause pain, swelling and sometimes disfigurement in hands. Other conditions such as Raynaud’s phenomenon and carpal tunnel syndrome can make your hands painful, and can cause pins and needles, as well as numbness.

For many people who have hand conditions, the colder months can make it worse. Your joints may ache more because of the cold, the constant hand washing can make your skin dry and the use of hand sanitiser (which often has a cooling effect) makes it feel like your fingers are about to drop off 😒.

But there are things you can do to decrease hand pain, deal with the cold and COVID, and make everyday activities easier.

Look after your hands. Inspect them for things such as swelling, nail and skin changes and any changes to the joint shape or direction of fingers and/or thumbs. By being aware of our hands and any changes that occur, you can seek advice sooner and prevent things from getting worse..

Wash and dry your hands regularly and thoroughly. Just as washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is necessary to help prevent the spread of germs (including SARS-CoV-2), drying your hands thoroughly is also important. Germs love moisture and thrive in moist places. Drying your hands reduces your chances of spreading or picking up germs when you touch things with damp or wet hands.

Apply a moisturising hand cream regularly to keep your skin healthy and nourished. With our more frequent hand washing and use of hand sanitiser, it’s easy for our hands to become dry and cracked. Cracked skin is an opening for germs to get in and potentially cause an infection. And if you have a condition such as scleroderma or psoriatic arthritis, skin care is an important part of your overall management plan. You may need to use a medicated skin cream, rather than an over-the-counter product. Talk with your doctor or pharmacist for more info.

Use assistive devices if your hands are painful and stiff. They can help if you have difficulty gripping or holding everyday items. Assistive devices such as jar openers, book holders, tap turners, button hook and zipper aids and easy grip utensils can make tasks easier by reducing joint stress and eliminating tight grasps. You may need to speak with an occupational therapist about what equipment is best suited to you. Also check out our online shop. We have some products available to help you with your everyday activities.

See a hand therapist if you have hand/wrist pain or a condition that affects your hands, especially if it’s causing you issues with your day to day activities. Hand therapists are occupational therapists or physiotherapists that have undergone advanced training to become experts in the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of upper limb problems (shoulder to hand). They can provide advice on joint protection and energy conservation (e.g. splints) as well as recommendations for adaptive devices/equipment to improve hand function.

Splints and other supports may be an option. They can give support to a painful joint by providing mild compression, warmth and/or joint protection. There are two main types of hand or wrist splints – resting splints and working splints. The choice of splint will depend on your condition and your current needs. Splints need to fit your hand comfortably and correctly, so speak with a hand therapist about what’s best for you and how often you should wear them.

Exercise your hands, as well as the rest of your body. Regular hand exercises can reduce stiffness and support your joints by keeping your muscles strong. If you’re considering hand exercises, it’s best to get advice from a hand therapist or other specialist as to which exercises are most suitable for you. Exercises should be mild and should not cause you additional pain when you’re doing them. See our Hand information sheet for some basic range of motion exercises.

Wear gloves in the cold weather, especially if you have Raynaud’s phenomenon. Hand warmers are also helpful. If you’re going to the shops for supplies and you have to use hand sanitiser before you enter, be aware that many of them have a cooling effect. This can really aggravate your condition. Having a couple of hand warmers in your pockets can help. You can get disposable hand warmers, or reusable ones. Just remember if you use the reusable ones to thoroughly wash the fabric pouch it’s contained in between uses. They can easily become contaminated, and hygiene is everything during this pandemic.

Also wear gloves when you’re gardening, washing dishes or doing any tasks that have the potential for your hands to get dirty or damaged.

Medications may provide some temporary pain relief, depending on the underlying condition causing the problem in your hand/s. Your doctor may suggest analgesics (pain relievers like paracetamol) as well as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen. A cortisone injection is generally not recommended for osteoarthritis of the hand, but may be used for rheumatoid arthritis or acute attacks of gout. In conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis you may also be taking disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs). It’s important to take these medications as prescribed by your doctor.

With conditions such as Raynaud’s, if simple measures like keeping your hands warm hasn’t helped, you may need to be prescribed medications that widen your blood vessels and improve circulation. Talk with your doctor for more info.

Making life easier on your hands

Sometimes simply changing the way you do everyday tasks can reduce pain and protect your joints. You can make life easier on your hands by considering the following:

Listen to your body – pain can serve as a warning sign that your joints are being overworked. Try to find a balance between activity and rest by pacing yourself. Take regular breaks when completing tasks and try not to overdo it on a good day. You might like to try heat or cold packs to help relieve pain. Some people also like to soak their hands in warm water or wrap their hands around a warm mug of tea.

Try to avoid using a tight grip for long periods. For example:

  • use foam or sponge to increase the grip size of handles on cutlery, pens and other hand held devices
  • use assistive devices with thick rubber grip handles (e.g. key turners, jar openers)
  • use rubber squares and gloves to help improve grip
  • consider lever handles around your home to minimise any twisting forces (e.g. mixer taps in bathrooms/kitchens).

Avoid repetitive movements. For example:

  • prolonged typing, pruning and power tool usage particularly those that vibrate
  • when gardening ensure your tools are sharpened and well maintained for ease of use
  • if you can’t avoid these repetitive movements, make sure you take regular breaks.

Try to use your body’s larger joints and muscles when you can. For example:

  • use your forearms to carry bags instead of your hands
  • when carrying items hold them closer to your body
  • when lifting heavier items squat and use your thigh muscles.

Spread the load – try to spread the load of an object over more than one joint. For example:

  • when picking up objects use two hands
  • slide sheets and swivel pads can help move items with less strain
  • divide shopping into smaller bags and try using a backpack and/or trolley.

Find an alternative. For example:

  • buy pre-cut meat and vegetables instead of trying to cut them up yourself
  • use electrical items instead of manual (e.g. can openers and graters)
  • look for items that are easier to use (e.g. push on pegs)
  • keep a pair of scissors handy to open packaging.

Rethink personal care/hygiene – for people with decreased hand function or fine motor skills, everyday tasks such as showering and toileting can be quite challenging. To make things easier you could use:

  • a bidet to help with cleaning difficult to reach areas
  • baby wipes/moist towelettes instead of toilet paper (but remember that they’re not flushable)
  • toilet paper tongs/aids to help with grip
  • soap dispensers instead of a bar of soap
  • items to make dressing easier e.g. sock sliders, elastic shoe laces, button hole hooks/zip pullers, front fastening bras as well as dressing aids for coats and cardigans o shoes with velcro fasteners instead of laces.

Our hands are complicated and important and we depend on them more than we realise. Painful hands can often be managed with simple self-care strategies, however if your hands are causing you a lot of grief, and affecting your day to day functioning, talk with your doctor for information and support.

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about things like managing your pain, COVID-19, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

More to explore


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27/May/2018

Gardening, pain and musculoskeletal conditions

Gardening’s a wonderful way to get out in the fresh air and sunshine. It can also be extremely relaxing, and it’s often a good workout.

But if your condition sometimes impacts on your ability to garden, there are many things you can do so that you can still get into your garden and enjoy yourself.

  • Pace yourself – don’t try to do too much in one go. And take regular breaks. This’s a good opportunity to rest – but also to sit back and admire your work, contemplate what to do next, and imagine future gardening projects.
  • Contain it – use pots and other containers for small, manageable gardens. You can use regular garden pots or containers, or be creative and use other containers you have lying around – e.g. old wheelbarrows, teapots, colanders, tyres, boots. Check out Pinterest for some great ideas.
  • Create raised garden beds – this will take a bit more planning and work, but by raising your garden beds you can access them with less bending or kneeling. Perfect if you have a sore back, hips or knees.
  • Use thick handled tools – there are a wide range of thicker handled garden tools that are great if you have painful hands or difficulty gripping. You can also buy thick rubber or foam tubing from the hardware store, cut it to length and fit it over the handles of your existing gardening tools.
  • Use cushioned knee supports – knees pads, kneeling mats, or even gardening stools can help cushion and protect your knees and help you get up and down off the ground.
  • Get some help – whether it’s family, friends, or a local handyman or gardener, get some help if you have some big jobs that need doing – e.g. creating raised garden beds, pruning trees, mowing lawns. You don’t have to do everything yourself.
  • Keep hydrated – make sure you drink plenty of fluids. Gardening can be hot, strenuous work, so don’t let yourself become dehydrated. Keep a water bottle close by.
  • Talk with an OT – an occupational therapist can help you find ways to modify your activities to reduce joint pain and fatigue and save energy. They can also give you tips and ideas about different aids and equipment available.

These are just a few things you can do to stay active in the garden, so that you can get out in the fresh air and enjoy getting your hands dirty. If you love to garden, and have suggestions or tips for others, please let us know. We’d love to hear from you.


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26/May/2018

Not just a fashion statement from the 70s!

From time-to-time many of us experience a flare, when symptoms like pain, inflammation and fatigue are worse, or more intense. This is a flare.

Flares are temporary, but can be frustrating and painful while they last. We don’t always know why they happen – and sometimes they seem to come out of the blue.

So it’s important that you have a plan for how you manage a flare when it happens.

Your flare plan

  • Write down what you were doing before the flare as this can help you identify potential triggers.
  • Talk with your doctor about what you should do when you have a flare. You may need to adjust your medications, or alter the dosage during a flare.
  • Have a plan in place for how you will deal with your commitments – family, work, social activities – when you’re in the middle of a flare. Can you alter your work hours, work from home, get your family to help out?
  • Prioritise your tasks and activities. This can reduce the risk of overdoing things.
  • Pace yourself. If the flare is the result of overdoing things, think about getting people to help you, or spread the activity over a greater period of time, e.g. if you want to clean your house, get the family involved and give each person a room or zone that they’re responsible for; or spread the job over a few weekends and assign yourself a room, a zone or a period of time to clean that’s achievable for you. When you’ve cleaned that area, or reached that time limit, stop. You can go back to it later.
  • Manage your stress, it can increase your pain levels. If you feel yourself becoming stressed, try relaxation techniques such as meditation, breathing exercises and visualisation, and avoid caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes.
  • Pull out all of your pain management strategies. Use heat or cold packs, get a massage, go for a walk, distract yourself…use all the things you know help you manage your pain.
  • Rest when your body needs it – but not for too long. Going to bed and not being active during a flare can make your pain and fatigue worse. Continue to exercise, but at a lesser intensity than usual. Listen to your body.
  • Use aids and other gadgets when your joints are painful and swollen. This will help protect your joints, and reduce some of the pain you feel when doing everyday tasks.

Some of the suggestions listed here are easy, however others involve a bit of thought, as well as input from others. But taking the time to work out a plan that works for you will help you manage your flares better, and with less disruption to your life.

Get advice from your doctor, and others in your healthcare team. Contact our MSK Help Line on 1800 263 265 and speak with a nurse or one of our trained volunteers.


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26/May/2018

Make your life easier with aids, equipment and other gadgets

Do you find that at times you struggle with everyday tasks?

When you have a musculoskeletal condition, simple things like pulling on your shoes, opening jars, combing your hair or sitting for long periods can sometimes become difficult and painful.

The good news is there are a variety of aids, gadgets and other equipment available to help you manage. They can also help reduce stress on your muscles and joints, save energy, prevent fatigue and basically make your life easier.

There are gadgets that can help you with everything from cooking, cleaning, getting dressed, driving, gardening, using technology and working.

Some things – e.g. kitchen utensils or gardening tools with thick handles that are easier to hold– can be found in many of the stores we already shop at.

Other items need to be bought from specialty stores or pharmacies. Or you may be able to modify objects that you already own – e.g. if you have sore hands, foam tubing can be used to create an easier grip on your pens.

Because there are so many options, it’s helpful to speak with an occupational therapist (OT) to get specific information and advice.

OTs work in the public and private sectors. You can access them through public and private hospitals, community health centres, independent living centres and private practice.

As well as helping you with aids and equipment, OTs can help you learn better ways to do everyday activities to help you:

  • protect your joints
  • reduce the pain caused by doing certain activities
  • save energy.

They can also provide advice about pacing your day and activities so you can achieve a balance between activity and rest.

The important thing to keep in mind is that there are many aids and gadgets available that can make your life easier. You don’t have to struggle.

Talk with an OT today.

You can also contact our MSK Help Line on 1800 263 265 and speak with a nurse or trained volunteer for information about living well with a musculoskeletal condition. We’re here to help!




Musculoskeletal Australia (or MSK) is the consumer organisation working with, and advocating on behalf of, people with arthritis, osteoporosis, back pain, gout and over 150 other musculoskeletal conditions.

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