Principles of Joint Protection
There are specific techniques and principles that will help you protect your joints. Here are a dozen tips to help you protect your joints: Don't disregard pain; recognize it as a signal to stop what you are doing. Consciously notice when pain and fatigue interrupt activities and take breaks as needed. Pace yourself, especially when activities are more strenuous. Move every joint gently through its full range of motion every day — preserving range of motion is an important aspect of joint protection. Strengthen your muscles by exercising regularly — strong muscles help protect joints. A physical therapist can teach you which exercises will benefit you the most. Be aware of the position of your hands when using them, and avoid stress and strain on your fingers. Use the largest and strongest joint possible for a specific task. For example, carry a tote bag over your shoulder rather than carrying it with your fingers or by looping it over your elbow.
Avoid positions or motions that contribute to ulnar drift or ulnar deviation. Examples include twisting a jar lid in the direction of your little finger or wringing out a dish towel. Motion should be toward the thumb whenever possible. Avoid clenching your fist and straining finger joints and knuckles. Avoid holding objects between your thumb and fingers. For example, when reading a magazine, put it on your lap or support it with your palms.
Don't stay in one position for long periods of time; moving around will decrease stiffness. If you will be driving a long distance, stop and stretch every hour. Don't carry heavy items — use carts to transport heavy items or a load of items. When traveling, your luggage should have wheels. Most importantly, do not start an activity which you would be unable to stop if pain suddenly developed (e.g., traveling on a long road trip and being unable to reach your destination). Pain which persists for two hours after an activity indicates the activity was too stressful for your body.
One of the most obvious ways to protect your joints is to maintain your ideal body weight. Carrying additional body weight adds more stress to your joints, especially the weight-bearing joints (hips, knees, ankles, feet, and back). Reduce the risk of joint damage by shedding extra pounds.
Use common sense. If a prior activity caused joint pain, don't repeat the activity without making adjustments to reduce the stress and strain on your joints. Don't move suddenly without thinking about your movements. Be aware of how you should be moving and how you are moving.
Joint damage and joint deformity can impede normal function. It may become more difficult to do your job, cook and clean, keep up with housework, and maintain personal hygiene. Any activity that involves using damaged joints may be greatly impacted. Manual dexterity and mobility may be severely reduced depending on the degree of joint damage.
Joint protection measures will help preserve function. Your ability to function, in turn, will preserve your independence.
Delegate! Give the chore that has become a virtual impossibility for you to someone else. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Don't risk injury by trying to do things you can no longer do. Don't do without because you cringe at the notion of needing help and view it as a sign of losing your independence.