How to Protect Your Joints

Tips on Controlling Your Arthritis


Carol Page, PT, DPT, CHT
Rehabilitation Department
Hospital for Special Surgery

Joint protection involves using them wisely to preserve them and help reduce the risk of damage - or further damage if you already have damage due to arthritis or injuries. This may require finding new ways to do things and using helpful equipment - or asking other people for help.

Respect Pain

  • Perform activities only up to the point of slight fatigue or discomfort. Then take a break - at least until pain disappears before starting again.
  • Recognize that pain lasting more than two hours after an activity is a warning sign. Don't push yourself that far again.
  • Use a warm heating pad for morning pain and stiffness, or use ice packs on warm and swollen joints.
  • Ask your physician about alternate activities if your exercise regimen is causing you significant pain. For example, if playing tennis exacerbates your pain, try swimming instead.
  • Discuss any persistent pain with your physician.

Plan Ahead - Balance Your Activities

  • Prioritize your daily activities, making sure to include rest and relaxation, as well as work and exercise.
  • Spread out light and heavy tasks throughout the day.
  • Be realistic about what you can do. Delegate tasks that will put you at risk for injury, or just ask for help.
  • Do the exercises your physician recommends for your specific condition. Get involved in additional exercise - as long as it's appropriate for you - since building muscle around the joints protects them.
  • Conserve your energy. Make sure the supplies you use most are the easiest to reach, which may require the installation of lower shelves. Sit often. Eliminate unnecessary tasks. Use electric appliances rather than your own muscle power whenever possible.
  • Enhance flexibility and mobility by changing your position frequently. Stretch every 15 minutes when writing or using a computer. Avoid long periods of standing, sitting, and lying down.

Distribute Work Over Your Body, Using Your Largest, Strongest Joints

  • Avoid placing excessive weight or strain on any single joint. Spread the weight of an object or task over several joints to limit the stress on a single joint. Get the shoulder, elbow and wrist involved in lifting - not just the fingers. For example, lift, carry and hold items with both hands. Use both hands or the side of your body to open heavy doors. Hold small items in the palm of your hand, not your fingers.
  • Keep items close to your body. "Hugging" packages is safer than carrying them on one side or in one hand.
  • Use a bag with shoulder straps rather than holding it in your hand, if it is heavy.
  • When using stairs, lead with your strong leg as you go up the stairs and with your weaker leg as you go down. This will limit the stress on the weaker joints. Use a hand rail.

Use Joints in Their Most Stable Position

  • For example, if you have wrist problems, don't stir by rotating your wrist. Instead, grip the spoon in your fist, with the spoon end exiting on the pinky side of your hand, and stir (thumb up) using your whole arm and keeping the wrist stable.
  • Avoid twisting motions. This is especially important for people who have back or hip pain - and for those with hand problems. Wringing motions stress fingers and encourage deformities. Don't wring out washcloths; just drape them over the faucet to dry. This also may require a little home redecorating to replace your doorknobs with lever door opening devices.

Use Adaptive Devices and Techniques

  • Use built-up handles made of foam or plastic for holding toothbrushes, pencils, and pens.
  • Use a cane to alleviate knee or hip pain. Remember, use the cane in the hand opposite your painful joint. For example, if your right knee hurts, hold the cane in your left hand.
  • Alternate hands when opening and closing jars or use a special device designed for people with limited strength or motion in their hands.
  • Use reachers or other devices to pick up items from the floor or to retrieve them from a high shelf.
  • Wear proper safety equipment, e.g., knee or wrist pads.
  • Check out websites, catalogs and stores that sell products specifically designed for people with arthritis or other conditions that limit movement.

Maintain Correct Posture

  • Keep your back straight, especially important when lifting large objects.
  • Bend at the knees and hips, not at the waist.
  • Separate feet to widen your base of support.
  • Keep the item you are lifting close to your body.
  • Stand on a low, stable footstool when reaching for high objects.
  • Use a firm chair with good arms and back support. Use a tall chair to make sitting down and standing easier.
  • Seek exercises that strengthen your posture.
  • Get familiar with ergonomics, especially if your work requires constant sitting or repetitive motion. Your company's human resources department may be able to help.

Control Your Weight

  • Losing extra pounds can make a difference in your prognosis. For example, your knees sustain an impact three to five times your body weight when you descend stairs. If you weigh 200 pounds, that means up to 1000 pounds banging on your knees. If you are very overweight, any loss of weight will be beneficial.
  • Get advice from your physician about a healthy diet for you to follow. Remember that excess weight contributes to additional, more threatening diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke, which could further limit your mobility.

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