Self Care For The Hands

I’m having a flare up in my fingers.

Psoriatic arthritis has been part of my life since I was 19 years old.

When I first had a really big flare up like this, in which two of my fingers were permanently bent out of shape, I did all the usual things by way of medicine – anti-inflammatories, daily exercises to strengthen the finger etc. – but my favourite thing was a preposterous glass ring that I took to wearing on that crooked finger. Physically, it is a hindrance, which is perhaps why I did not keep on wearing it. However, whenever I feel powerless in the face of unexpected arthritis pains, I think of that ring with a triumphant feeling that is as comforting as any dose of painkillers.

I also think back to “The Expert Patient Programme”. There was only one group running in the UK at the time when I begged my GP for a referral; I invented a fictitious address in Hemel Hempstead and battled my way across London with my walking stick and Disabled Person’s Railcard once a week in order to attend the meetings. The deception and hassle were well worth my effort. The Expert Patient Programme ultimately led to the creation of Self Management UK, which is the UK’s leading charity in promoting self-care in patients with long-term or chronic conditions. The key concept is that rather than looking to ‘experts’ such as Doctors and Nurses for practical advice on day-to-day management of chronic health conditions, patients gain much more through learning from one another in well-managed peer group meetings. This approach is genius because it deals with disability as an experience of daily life rather than as a medical pathology. In the meetings, I learnt much about how other people were managing their respective conditions, and I also experienced myself and my fellow attendees as a collective fount of resourcefulness and irreverence. That last point is vitally important; the identity of the “Expert Patient” is an affirmative and respectful one with positive consequences for self-esteem. We laughed together and solved problems; made useful suggestions to one another; and came away each week with fresh ideas about how to tackle the problems presented in daily life by our respective health problems.

The solutions we shared at those meetings were practical, enabling and useful, coming with the added bonus that they were presented by folk with a real understanding of what it means to live with chronic illnesses and disabilities. There was also a great deal of very necessary laughter and mischief. In attending The Expert Patient Programme I learnt how useful it is to share solutions; to focus on the management of daily tasks; and to concentrate on being well resourced for times of physical emergency.

I still think of myself as an “Expert Patient”.

I’ve been considering all this in light of the recent flare up, and aside from taking regular breaks from the computer and doing daily hand exercises, I know it will help me to share some of the things that I’m finding helpful here. I’ve been meaning to write this post for a long time, too, because I’ve had several exchanges with comrades over the last few years regarding bad wrists and hands. It seems the knitting and self-publishing industries are rife with physical complaints of this nature, and I think it can only help to extend the wondrous ethos of the Expert Patient Programme to the blogosphere.

If you have found solutions to managing pain, energy-levels or problems with your hands or joints in the course of managing your own health, please feel free to share your expertise in the comments.

This blog post is dedicated to OUR AMAZING HANDS and is written in the spirit of THE BIG GREEN RING OF JOY.

SARAH – Strengthening And Stretching for Rheumatoid Arthritis of the Hand

A wondrous physiotherapist taught me these exercises last year when my wrists were flaring up. She told me that the sequence of exercises has been the subject of a medical research study, the findings of which are that doing these daily hand exercises can markedly benefit sufferers of arthritis. You can request a copy of a PDF containing the exercises here and I find that even when it’s sore, it’s really worth pushing through with the exercises for the mobility gained.

Making Playdough and playing with it

I don’t mind admitting that I LOVE making playdough for the small people in my life; I like this recipe and find that adding essential oils like peppermint or lavender, or making the dough with rosewater, makes an uplifting dough that can be kneaded for a long time, bringing comfort and mobility to sore fingers. I think that making it and kneading it provide a total break from normal manual activities. A balance must be struck between exercise and rest in inflammatory arthritis; I find that if I rest a flaring joint too much then inflammation sets in like rot; exercise it too hard, and inflammation is exacerbated. I have found that continuously varying the types of things I do with my hands is a big help to them and that a few moments of petting the playdough each day is very pleasing to sad fingers.

Mixing up the knitting needles

Continuing in the spirit of varying the manual tasks I do each day, changing the needles I use reduces the repetitive wear of my knitting action. I also taught myself to knit very loosely after Liz mentioned many years ago that using natural fibres, bamboo needles and a loose knitting action would undoubtedly help my hands (she was right). I like to use a mix of needle types; Addi-Turbo circulars; square, ergonomic DPNs (although the circulars of this range are my mortal enemy); square knit-pro needles (cubics); simple bamboo DPNs; and lately a knitting belt from Shetland with long metal DPNs as a wondrous assistant to my stranded colourwork projects. It is somewhat expensive solution to have many needles in stock all the time, but I view it as a kind of hand health insurance policy.

Sideways Mouse!

I have an amazing vertical mouse – the Perixx PERIMICE-713 – which I find makes all my computing work a trillion times easier on my wrists. I will never use another type of mouse again – this one is amazing.


I love my mobile phone, but sometimes I love it a leetle bit too much, and constantly twiddling about on that irresistible shiny porthole into social media land can play havoc with my hands. The Forest app provides an imaginative solution; you plant a ‘tree’ in a virtual landscape which ‘grows’ throughout a given period of time. If you tinker with your mobile phone while the tree is ‘growing’, it ‘dies’. At the end of the day, your time spent not playing with the phone is represented in a proportionately lush or barren forest landscape. It may sound silly, but to me the imaginative imagery of being focused and trees growing is just the right flavour of playfulness I need to keep my phone habit in check. I also like Break Free for detailed metrics on phone overuse. When hand to touchscreen time is precious, I personally find it helpful to get some sense of how and where it’s best spent.

15 Responses to Self Care For The Hands

  1. I love the idea of the Forest app. A lovely way to exercise social media self-discipline in a very graceful and pleasing way. The only question is: should I download it now, or do I wait till later?!

    I will share this post on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks.

  2. Juliann says:

    As a retired occupational therapist, I commend your approach to this painful arthritic condition. It is not “just a chronic disease”, it is a life-altering painful condition that affects your whole life and the way you deal with those around you. You-generic public you- are at the center of the management of the pain, and you are the one who has to take control. You, Felix, did that, and that is why I would love to tell everyone to read your essay carefully. You found a group; you got a referral; you found a magic ring; you are fighting head on to deal with the painful condition; you still find ways to do the things you love to do. I still remember a hike in the Rocky Mountains after a big snow. My friend who was leading the hike was way ahead of me. I had a really bad cold, and I was miserable. I blew my nose, I coughed, I grumped, I trudged along. Finally at one point she turned to me and said, “Okay, so you have a damned cold. I don’t care. Just deal with this and shut up.” I guess it pulled me out of the self-pity, because that was one of the most beautiful hikes I have taken. Everything looked like a Currier and Ives painting.

  3. Josh says:

    I love this blog post. For me knitting with different size needles trough the day helps. And making small movements helps too. A big hug to you, and I hope the flare goes back down quickly.

  4. Janet Major says:

    Hi Felix,
    This is a great post for me too. I have also benefited from the Expert Patients programme and found it immensely helpful as I have a couple of chronic conditions. The being positive and feeling in control is helpful. I have had a problem with my hands also , not so severe as you but I did two things. Learnt to knit the continental way to use my left hand more when I feel the need. I still purl the ‘normal’ way. I also use a knitting machine for big items leaving my hands for knitting details.
    This has come at a fine time for me as I have spent the day in bed with a severe migraine which no amount of positive energy would take away!
    Managing pain – I find distraction helpful – getting totally absorbed in knitting, planning designs etc
    Managing energy levels – managing food intake ! I eat often and eat T the slightest sign of lack of energy.
    Hope some of this is helpful

  5. Jeannette Smyth says:

    this is great. i am gathering string for the clinic i work at for undocumented workers. their number one problem is stress, which exacerbates diabetes. up to and including PTSD, and patient/peer therapy is where it’s totally at. thank you so much.

  6. I’m so sorry to hear you’ve had a flare up in your hands and hope they feel better soon…I found this such an interesting post, the patient group sounds amazing, very empowering. Although I don’t have Rheumatoid Arthritis I do suffer from Raynaud’s and when it’s playing up my fingers and hands can be very painful…hand massages with a balm I made myself are part and parcel of my daily routine and I always have a pair of little gloves (made by lovely Ella Gordon from Shetland wool so they are soft and warm and just beautiful)in my bag for when a “cold attack” happens….diet helps and I try to avoid too much cold food, most of what I’ve found works for me has been from talking to other people who suffer from it rather than from suggestions by various doctors…

  7. Linda says:

    Felix, you are just Amazing! Watching you doing small steps, dealing with your body and mind, playing with it, engaging it, being you, getting stronger as a personality has just been a great pleasure for me! This story, your story! will always stay with me and it has already helped people you will probably never meet…thank you for being…much love Linda

  8. Susan says:

    That post was pure genius! I will save it as well as pass it on. thank you.

  9. June Hemmons Hiatt says:

    Felix, it’s wonderful of you to go public with this and encourage everyone with a similar condition to take control of the situation and find what helps. I have arthritis and know how difficult it can be to deal with, and it’s especially discouraging for a knitter (a maker of any kind), to have hand problems. One of the things I recommend in my book is that every knitter learn two or three different ways to knit because being able to switch from one to another can often make it possible to continue working. I have also been heartened to see how often a knitting belt can make a difference. I’m quite convinced that this method is the least likely to cause repetitive stress injuries or aggravate conditions like arthritis. There is a reason why Shetland knitters can knit away all day every day without complaint — during the centuries when production knitters there and elsewhere in Europe used devices of this kind to support one needle, the method was honed to perfection. I have witnessed many knitters, new to a belt, suddenly realize that they could knit without the discomfort they experienced with the method they normally used; it makes my efforts to reintroduce the belts particularly gratifying. I hope you enjoy knitting with yours and that you find it a helpful option when your hands are causing you trouble.

  10. NicolaB says:

    I don’t have any helpful advice, but I love ideas of the Forest app- I’m trying to use my smartphone less, as I find myself obsessively checking it, which is definitely not healthy! I wouldn’t want to kill the trees, so I think I will give it a go..

    I heart the big green ring too 🙂

  11. Tig says:

    Love the ring – it would prevent you doing anything but giggle (always a good idea in the face of pain). I find your determination to carry on cheerfully very inspiring.

    I recently had sore thumb joints for the first time ever. Staring aghast at my lovely heap of spinning and knitting projects, I determined to try anything. I bought a copper bracelet. Conversation with friend:

    Her: ‘Why are you wearing that bracelet?’
    Me: ‘I’ve got sore thumb joints, and copper is supposed to help’
    Her: (sceptically) ‘Does it do any good?’
    Me: ‘I don’t think so, but it doesn’t do any harm either!’

    Note to self. Must try a big green ring.

  12. Laura McLachlan says:

    Lots of good ideas here – some I’d heard of and a few new amazing ones! I have various types of arthritis – osteo and rheumatoid – unfortunately passed down from my grandmother to my mother to me. Exercise of some form is also good depending on how your condition is presenting at the time. I may find that I’m out walking regularly, maybe out on my bike a couple of times, hillwalking, doing a bit of Zumba when in tip top wellness. When I’m not so good, I still go out walking, but I stick to much, much shorter distances and very little ascent. I also might do 10 mins of simple yoga. I think there is also a chart online for armchair exercise for those whose movement is restricted.

    For my hands, when I can afford it, I get Roman Chamomile oil and blend it with a light base oil and massage into my hands. It really works.

    I love the idea of the Forest!

  13. Victoria S says:

    Hey Felix,
    I have Ehlers-Danlos Hypermobility (among a collection of other fun things). One thing I love is my Karbonz as they are super light and warm up as you work.
    I think next year we should make a needle testing station at EYF with different types of needles (Straights, circs, interchangables) and let people try out any they want. I think between us we can conjure a good range of needles and hooks.

    People can bring along some scrap yarn and try out a few making small squares or something quick and basic but enough to know if they are interested in going out and buying some needles for a longer test.

    Another thing I do is mix things up a lot – knit, crochet, weave, spin and dye. Do all the things so when you can’t do something there is always something else to keep you happy. Even if it is watching bad TV. 😀

  14. Christine says:

    I have Reactive Arthritis (very similar to psoriatic or RA) and I, too, have lots of kinds of needles. I also have lots of wips on different sizes going so I can give my hands variety. I’ll knit on my sock for a bit, then switch to a hat or shawl. There was a time when my hands and wrists were especially awful. I found that a microwaveable heating pad (the heavy kind with rice and whatnot inside) was really helpful. I’d lay my hands flat on my lap and put the bag on top. That, and Voltaren pain gel. Sometimes my trigger fingers come back but there’s a splint for that. Anyway, I’m sorry you’re having a flare, but it is great to find another fellow arthritis-sufferer/survivor.

  15. Mickey says:

    Thanks for the information. I have enjoyed the comments as well. I do switch knitting needles mid-project when one type/style of knitting starts to annoy me. I believe it was Elizabeth Zimmerman who pointed out that knitters of yore were probably not such even knitters but repeated use and washing tended to make small differences not noticeable. (maybe some not so small differences) I find this comforting.

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