Have a Pain in the Hand?

Pointers to alleviate the aches of the workday

Think about how many times you’ve used your hands today -- for texting, typing, scrolling the computer mouse and so on. 

Now, imagine what you’d do without your hands -- say, if they’re out of commission from an injury, like from a repetitive strain or tendonitis.

Who would feed you?  Who would sign checks for you?  Worse yet (gulp!) who would text for you?

Victoria Better, OTR/L, NDT, CLT, CEAS, CFCE, owner of Upper Extremity & Hand Therapy, Inc., located in Lanham, Md., explains that our everyday rituals, especially those of daily work-related functions, can contribute to hand-related pain.

“Hand pain can result from repetitive use of the shoulder, elbow, forearm, wrist, thumb and fingers while in awkward postures,” Better said.  “Repetitive typing, computer mouse use and cell phone use, including texting, most often results in the compression of the tight, narrow passage way in the small bones of the wrist, soft tissues, ligaments and nerve on the palm side of the hand and wrist.”

As a result of excessive compression on the hand, conditions like repetitive strain injuries, tendonitis being one of them, can develop. 

Better explains that tendonitis typically develops when performing the same, repetitive tasks day to day for more than 30 minutes.  Additionally, factors like poor posture and the force of the tasks play a part in the development of the condition.

“Without either changing the task every 30 minutes or taking five minute breaks, the shoulders, elbows, wrists, thumbs and fingers can be adversely affected.  Symptoms include swelling, aching, throbbing and tightness in the affected body parts,” she said.

As Better details, repetitive strain injuries further include carpal tunnel syndrome, de Quervain's tenosynovitis (swollen and painful thumb tendons), trigger fingers (pain of the palm-side tendons of the hand, fingers and thumb) and tennis elbow (pain, swelling and tenderness of the inner or outer elbow tendons). 

Furthermore, as a result of repetitive, constant movement, cysts can develop if fluid between joints leak from within.

To reduce risk of repetitive strain injuries, a person should take constant breaks and perform stretches on a regular basis.  Better also suggests purchasing gel wrist supports for the keyboard and mouse pad if needed, so that the wrist can maintain a neutral position throughout the workday.

Correct posture, too, is key.  “Relieving wrist and hand pain requires maintaining the wrist in a middle position, with correct posture of the head, neck, forearms and shoulders,” Better said.

Individuals should also practice the position of a neutral posture while seated, with the head leveled or slightly downward, shoulders relaxed and elbows at about 90 degrees against the sides.  The lower back should be supported with a small cushion or pillow, and the knees should be at or below hip level with the feet out in front and supported.

All in all, typing up report after report can be mind-numbingly painful, but typing a mile an hour for eight hours straight can really add up to be a pain in the -- hand. 

So, take extra precaution to protect your digits, because we need them, primarily, to text through the boredom of the workday.

To restore movement to and promote the flexibility of the hand and fingers, Better advises that patients perform the following three times daily (provided that pain is not induced):

  • Hand Open and Close:  Curl your fingers and thumb, making a tight fist.  Then straighten out fingers as far as possible.  Repeat 10 times.
  • Finger Adduction to Abduction:  Begin with your fingers touching together. Spread your fingers apart as far as possible, and then return to the starting position.  Repeat 10 times.
  • Thumb Opposition:  Move your thumb to each finger-tip, beginning with your index finger and finishing with your little finger. If your thumb cannot reach your finger-tips, move as close as possible.  Repeat 10 times to each finger.
  • Thumb Extension to Flexion:  Move your thumb away from your index finger and across your palm.  Repeat 10 times, stretching the thumb as far as possible.
  • Thumb Adduction to Abduction:  Begin with your thumb touching your index finger on the palm side.  Move your thumb away from your index finger as far as possible, and then return to the starting position.  Repeat 10 times.

(Note:  consult with your occupational therapist prior to partaking in any hand therapy or exercise.)

For more information on repetitive strain injuries and hand, wrist and finger stretches, contact:

Victoria Better, Occupational Therapist
9500 Annapolis Road, Suite A-3/A-4
Lanham, Md. 20706
(301) 918-9099

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