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.
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.
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.