Joint Protection

Introduction to Joint Protection

As usual this post is written from a dual perspective, I’m an Occupational Therapist and I have spent many years learning to manage my own health. With this post I aim to give a few simple ways of looking after your joints during everyday activities, hopefully explained in a simple way.

As with all of my posts, please check with your medical professionals before making any changes to your routine.  I am speaking in very general terms and mostly from my own personal experience.

Simply put, the principles of joint protection are all about looking after your joints. Following these principles can have a number of benefits including; reducing pain, avoiding injury, managing fatigue and avoiding the kinds of joint deformities that are common with conditions like Rheumatoid Arthritis.

Respect your pain (Curtin et al., 2009)

If sitting, standing or holding a certain position causes you a lot of pain then maybe your body is trying to tell you not to do it. This isn’t always the case but it’s worth considering. Avoiding the ouch-inducing activity might not be possible. It might be a case of changing the way you do things to minimise the ouch.

Pacing (Curtin et al., 2009)

Flat out avoiding painful activities isn’t always possible or wise so if the position or activity is essential then maybe you should need to pace yourself. Remember to take regular breaks and don’t stay in any one position for too long. Pacing involves doing activities little and often, this actually helps you stay more active in the long run. As a lot of you will already know, if you don’t use it you’ll lose it. Muscle strength, muscle memory and flexibility and can disappear surprisingly quickly so it’s important to keep going, just not too fast and with regular rest breaks.

Avoid deforming positions (Curtin et al., 2009)

This is especially important with conditions like Rheumatoid Arthritis.  My top tip for this is to enlist some help, get someone to watch you for a day and point out every time you put yourself in a wonky-but-comfortable-for-you position. This tip is especially good for people with limited proprioception and body awareness. I’ve been working on my posture and positioning for years but my family regularly call out ‘feet’ when they see me stood on the edges of my ankles, toes pointed in. It’s important to remember that posture doesn’t just mean pulling back your shoulder and sucking in your tummy, posture covers all your joints, right down to your fingertips!

Maintain stable positions (Curtin et al., 2009)

Keep your joints in their most stable positions and as much as possible avoid the extremes of joint range. This is especially important for people with hypermobile and unstable joints. If there’s something just out of reach then it may well be safer to get up and move closer as supposed to leaning over in dangerous-wonky angles and only just grasping with your fingertips. For bendie folks, try to avoid reaching for things if it means hyperextending your joints. If you’re not sure where your joints are (like many of us) then try keeping your joints a little bit bent, that way you won’t accidentally hyperextend anything.

Spread the load (Curtin et al., 2009)

Try distributing the strain over multiple joints. Rather than using a pinch grip, use your whole hand. If your wrists are unstable or your hands are painful then hug objects to your chest using your forearms. The easiest way to spread the load is to just use both hands.

Avoid over-gripping (Curtin et al., 2009)

Don’t grip things too tightly. It might feel safer to grip things hard but actually it could cause damage and lead to increased pain. If you’re struggling to twist while gripping there are loads of little gadgets available to reduce torque. Lever taps are much easier to use (you can get add on gadgets to adapt regular taps). Opening bottle lids can be made much easier using grippy plastics like Dycem or Tenura (they make bottle & jar openers) or a pair of nut crackers! the smaller section on nut crackers fits drinks bottle lids really well.

Splinting (Curtin et al., 2009)

Splints can be used to look after your joints during risky activities, wrist braces for lifting saucepans or finger splints while holding a pen. Splinting should only be used if necessary but can be very effective.

Keep moving (Curtin et al., 2009)

Avoid staying in one position for too long. Fidgeting is your friend, it should help stop you seizing up and reduce aches and pains.

Adapt, find easier or more comfortable ways of doing things. A lot of people with chronic illnesses and disabilities will naturally think outside the box, we’re naturally innovative and creative. If you’ve reached the ends of your own creativity then I recommend checking out my Joint Protection Masterclass!

As always, questions and comments are welcome and I’d love to hear any ideas you have.

JBOT

Reference List

Curtin, M., Molineux, M., Supyk-Mellson, J. (2009) Occupational Therapy and Physical Dysfunction. 6th ed. Churchill Livingstone.
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6 thoughts on “Introduction to Joint Protection

  1. I’m so happy I found your blog!! I’m currently in my 3rd year of Occupational Therapy and am super passionate about helping others that live with chronic widespread musculoskeletal Pain (I have HMS). Your page is super helpful to me on a personal and professional level and I love the positivity you bring 🙂 Am going to try some gentle Yoga this week (I’ve strictly always been told to stay away from it and have always been a pilates gal). Thank you for the inspiration 🙂

    Cheers!
    Kate

    1. Thankyou so much! I’m really glad you’ve found it useful! Good luck with the yoga I hope it goes well. How long till you graduate? 🙂

  2. Hi, I’ve enjoyed reading your blog, and a recent diagnosed eds hypermobility person, I am desperate for clinics, specialists, OT people etc. who can direct me to the best information possible. I am a trifecta winner in that I have fibromyalgia, systemic lupus, and now at 64 yrs. old a diagnosis of EDS. Now the interesting part of my story is that Ive spent the past several years as a private practice therapists counseling those with chronic illness and pain. While I have arthritic joints, balance issues etc. I.m looking for an appropriate neck brace. I have such fatigue holding my neck up. Any suggestions?

    1. Sounds like such rewarding work! well done you! and I’m sorry you’re strugling with health issues. Have you seen a physio for your neck? The trouble with neck braces is that it’s really easy to become dependent on them and once you do it can cause some serious problems. I have a removable head rest for my wheelchair and use one of those wrap around neck pillows for bad times, they are supportive but don’t do as much as a neck brace so I am still relying partially on my own muscles. I’m afraid as far as neck braces go I don’t actually know all that mucch about individual brands but I would recommend getting one prescribed by an orthotist as supposed to just trying something. Necks are pretty important you don’t want to risk doing the wrong thing if you know what I mean. Best of luck with everything and please do let me know how you get on. Sorry I couldn’t be more help 🙂

  3. Fantastic post Jo with some great things to always be considering! I’m very lucky that my Mum has always been very pro-active in adapting life in general so I stay as healthy as possible & don’t miss out. I’ve learned an awful lot from her! There are so many people out there who don’t have the role model I have &, through no fault of their own, are unable to help themselves. This post is ideal for getting them thinking about how they can adapt to make life a little easier & less painful. Xx

    Tania | When Tania Talks

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