The Rheumatoid Arthritis Handbook: For RA Hands
by Steve Pritikin
I was diagnosed with RA in 2008 and likely had the condition for a while before I was diagnosed. The first sign that I had RA was my bent fingers. In fact, that’s what led me to a rheumatologist. I had gone to see my primary care physician because of a long-lasting cold. She noticed my fingers and was the first to suggest the possibility of RA.
Those that have known me for a while know that I’m a hands-on kind of guy. I love to “tinker” around the house, and I also love to play drums. I look at life with a lot of humor—my motto is, “You can’t laugh and cry at the same time”.
Dealing with the daily pain and fatigue of RA is just that…DAILY. Each day is different depending on how I get out of bed and start my day. My most recent Vectra® score shows that I am in borderline remission however, x-rays of my hands show the past extensive joint damage, which occurred before I began treatment with a biologic back in 2010.
I have a gift of inventing things to help make my daily functions easier. Here are a few of my tips:
Around the House
- Opening doors can be a challenge with RA. I wrap self-stick ACE bandage tape around doorknobs, and with only the slightest grip, can turn the knob to open the door. Another trick is to cross-cut a tennis ball and place it over the knob. That also works well, but the tape is a little easier to affix. You can use the ACE bandage tape to wrap around almost anything that needs a good grip with RA hands. It leaves no marks and is reusable.
- When using a non-handled glass or cup, a few large rubber bands around the cup will keep your drink on the table. Rubber bands also work well for gripping silverware and some thin-handled tools.
- Wrapping rubber bands around the metal grips of nail clippers help your fingers hang on to the clippers extremely well. And don’t forget to brush your teeth, even if it means rubber bands on the handle of the toothbrush.
- Another trick that is longer-lasting than rubber bands can be used in many of the same situations. At a home improvement store, such as Home Depot or Lowe’s, you can purchase an item called Liquid Plastic or Plastic Dip. Open the can and dip the ends of eating utensils, nail clippers, tweezers, tools, or other items into the rubber. Let it dry, then do it again, repeating the process several times. The rubber becomes hardened and can even go through the dishwasher!
- Rubber mats or reverse tape on the kitchen table or TV trays can hold your plate from moving around and possibly falling if you have hand and/or arm issues.
- Use a long-handled ADA gripper for reaching things not too heavy. If you have a cane, put some packing or scotch tape in reverse on the bottom of the cane to pick up small items on the floor.
- Rubber fingertips sold in stationery stores for office workers are great for reading books and turning pages as they were designed for. But they have other uses too and can help you get a grip on ordinary items around the house or office.
Work Around the House
- Using a men’s comb to hold a nail between the tangs helps with hanging a picture without fumbling with RA hands or missing the nail and hitting your fingers. The same trick can be used with screws to hold it in place as you are using a screwdriver.
- A lightweight, magnetic wristband is incredibly helpful if you are hanging things so that you don’t have to reach for nails or screws. I can climb a ladder to nail more than one item without having to go up and down the ladder each time I need something.
- Heavy-duty, two-sided Velcro is a great way to hang tools. I place one side of Velcro on the tool and other side of Velcro on a wall or peg board. It’s easy to remove and replace the tools for easy use.
Drumming and Gardening
- I play drums, and my RA hands don’t hold my sticks like I need them to. I use bicycle handle grips on the ends of some of my sticks, and now I have a solid grip on the sticks without sending them flying. The bicycle grips have finger grips, which really help. You can use the bicycle grips on garden tools, such as rakes, as well.
- Another trick is to use rubber cement to adhere an old garden hose, or even new rubber tubing purchased from a home improvement store, to garden tools and drumsticks. It’s a little less expensive than the bicycle grips.
- Driving long distance has been my only real issue. Give yourself extra time to get where you are going and go 20-30 minutes at a time, then get out and stretch.
- The same goes for getting out of bed. Stretch your limbs, back, neck, toes, and fingers before getting out of bed. It makes the morning go a little easier.
Thanks for letting me share some of my tips with you! I’d love to hear how you hack things around the house to make it easier to live with RA Hands.