By Claudia M. Caruana
MANY PEOPLE INITIALLY believe their sore and
achy hands are caused by osteoarthritis and aging,
and that they just have to live with the pain. Instead,
they should make an appointment with their doctor.
“Don’t rush to a decision that you’ve developed
osteoarthritis like ‘everyone’ and then ignore it,” says
Dr. David Zelouf, a hand surgeon at the Philadelphia
Dr. Jennifer N. Caudle, assistant professor of
family medicine at Rowan University School of
Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford, New Jersey, says,
“People should see their physician at the onset of
hand or thumb pain because it has to be properly
diagnosed in order to be properly treated.”
If it is arthritis, Caudle says, “keep in mind that
it isn’t just a physical ailment. It’s important mentally
and spiritually for patients to do the things that are
important to them when living with a potentially
She notes, “Rolling Stones guitarist Keith
Richards recently acknowledged his own struggles
with arthritic hands and how he’s adapted his tech-
nique to continue to play. He’s doing exactly the
right thing because you must keep moving.”
Help at hand
Many physicians will recommend physical therapy or occupational therapy for treating hand pain.
“I regularly prescribe it because movement is critical
for maintaining function and decreasing pain,”
“Do not completely avoid activity, because
joints may actually become stiffer. Appropriate
activity is key.”
Richard Sedillo, a physical therapist in
Scottsdale, Arizona, says therapists can help ease
hand pain by showing patients how to do daily hand
stretching and specific exercises. They also may rec-
ommend moist heat or ice for aching and inflamed
hands, depending on your physician’s diagnosis.
“Tired hands do best with stretching and soft-tissue mobilization such as gentle massage,” he says.
“Equally important, a physical therapist can determine if the pain might be coming from somewhere
else, such as your neck or shoulders. Those areas of
the body also might need to be treated.”
Carpal tunnel syndrome
Sometimes your wrists hurt too.
“Everyone has two carpal tunnels, the space
where artery, nerve and vein reside side by side,”
says Sedillo. “The neck/thoracic spine, shoulders,
elbow/forearm and finally the hand affect these tun-
nels, which can become inflamed and painful.”
Although long hours at keyboards and other
repetitive hand motions often are blamed for carpal
tunnel syndrome, other causes are possible too,
including pregnancy and thyroid diseases.
Sometimes there is no apparent cause.
Zelouf says that physicians may treat patients
who have carpal tunnel syndrome with over-the-counter or prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflamma-tory drugs, corticosteroid injections into the carpal
tunnel or splints worn during the day and at night.
Physical therapy is also recommended, and sometimes acupuncture is helpful. “Surgery in the carpal
tunnel,” Zelouf says, “usually is done as a last resort.”
“We don’t want patients avoiding activities, getting worse and feeling disconnected,” says Caudle.
“New circumstances require a new way of thinking
about tasks,” she says. “Your hands are integral to
your ability to care for yourself and others, so I want
patients thinking about workarounds and not
focusing on what they can’t do.” C
Claudia M. Caruana is a New York–based health and
Costco and Costco.com offer a
variety of hand-friendly items,
including ergonomic keyboards,
tools and kitchen and office
supplies as well as over-the-counter and prescription medications at Costco Pharmacies.
Treating wrist and hand aches and pains
© BLACKBOARD1965 / SHUTTERSTOCK
CAUSES OF HAND pain can
include struggling with tight
jar lids, surfing on your laptop
for many hours or using your
thumbs to text your family and
friends. Here’s how to find
; Change how you do
things—maybe use all of your
fingers instead of your thumbs
for texting—and for how long.
Take frequent breaks when
you use your hands, and rest
them at regular intervals.
; Modified tools that you
use every day, from cutlery to
thick pencil and pen grips,
often are helpful when your
hands hurt. Also, look for cooking utensils with special grips,
which make picking them up
and putting them down easier.
; Ask your pharmacist to
put your prescription in easy-to-open containers. (Be sure
to keep them out of the reach
; For cans, use an electric
can opener. For jars, use jar
wrenches, jar cloths or jar keys
that make opening them easier.
; Soothing your hands
with a thick hand cream can
be a nice treat for them, but if
they ache, you might consider
over-the-counter rubs, gels
and creams that contain mentholated ingredients or salicylic acid.
“There also are prescription gels and creams that can
be ordered by your physician
if your pain is more severe,”
says Dr. David Zelouf, a hand
surgeon at the Philadelphia