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.

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