How Can I Make Cooking with Arthritis Less Painful?
For many people with arthritis, coping with food preparation presents some of their most difficult challenges. It is also not likely that the person will be able to “lay off” from these tasks while their thumb and fingers are sore, as they would with a sport or a hobby. Pain and joint swelling may be warning signs that your joints are being too heavily used, and in general it is a good idea to modify your approach to painful activities to save further damage to your joints. There are several things that you can do to minimize these stresses while still getting your jobs done:
- Opening Jars: There are many options to make opening jars less stressful. If your arthritis is mild, you may only need assistance with breaking the vacuum seal on a new jar. Some kitchen stores and catalogs including North Coast Functional Solutions carry an inexpensive “jar popper” that accomplishes this easily. You may also be able to release the seal by running the lid under hot water for approximately 30 seconds, then inverting and tapping the jar lid on a folded towel or jar gripper which has been placed on the countertop.
- If your arthritis is so severe that holding a jar is difficult or painful, Black and Decker’ “Lids-Off Jar Opener opens jars automatically and saves wear and tear on both of your hands. You can find it at amazon.com or in many small kitchen appliance departments. It also helps if you remind your family members to ease off on the force when they reclose a jar as they often have more grasp strength and close it tighter than you can loosen.
- Opening bags of cereal or chips: As packaging techniques improve and packages become stronger, people with painful joints and compromised pinch strength often find that tearing open a bag is a major challenge. A pair of scissors in the kitchen is a simple way around this problem. Close the bag with a large “chip clip” or transfer the contents to a zipper top food storage bag, which is less stressful on your fingers than bags which require a direct sliding pinch to close.
- Food chopping or peeling: Cutting through raw vegetables and peeling apples or potatoes can generate a lot of pressure on your joints. If you can make the diameter of your tools slightly wider, your fingers will be in a less strained position and you may find you have more strength. Oxo makes a variety of different kitchen tools with built up handles under the Good Grips brand, which is available through a variety of retailers.
- It may also be helpful, if you have arthritis in the base of your thumb, to wear a flexible foam lined wrap that supports the base of your thumb while working. It leaves your wrist and fingers free and does not limit the motion in the other joints of your thumb. If your wrist is also painful with stirring or lifting, you may want to consider a longer neoprene wrap which crosses the wrist. My patients who have mild to moderate arthritis in their thumbs really like the 3pp ThumSling which comes in both a hand based and longer version with the wrist included. Those with more severe arthritis usually feel like they need a more rigid support, which can be custom fabricated by a hand therapist, or ordered as a prefabricated splint like the ThumSaver from 3-Point Products.
- Dishwashing: Washing dishes is a chore that people with arthritis often have mixed feelings about. The warm water can be very soothing for their sore joints, but scrubbing pots and pans can be painful. It’s worth it to take the extra time to make sure that you have done everything you can to prevent burned on food in the first place. Soaking the dishes and pots in hot water with dishwashing soap added can lessen the need for heavy scrubbing, as the soap is designed to release stuck on foods. If you do need to scrub, your joints will be less challenged with a handled scrubber, particularly one with a built up handle, than trying to grasp a sponge shaped pad.
About the author: Lydia Hohman, OTR/L CHT has been a Certified Hand Therapist since 1993 and was a co-owner of North Wales Hand Rehabilitation in Pennsylvania until 2009, when she relocated to Maryland. She continues to work as an occupational and hand therapist in Maryland.