I'm Losing My Grip

Last updated: June 2020

I am losing my grip. I don’t mean my grip on reality (although that’s a possibility). I mean the physical grip in my hands.

When I was diagnosed, there was a notation on my chart that the diagnosis included some aspects of ankylosing spondylitis which generally affects the spine and larger joints. This is no doubt true. Within a month of diagnosis, I had a hip replacement followed within six months by a shoulder replacement and subsequently by a knee replacement and two spinal fusions. I was definitely not following the “usual” progression of RA which often initially attacks the smaller joints in the hands and feet.

That appears to be changing.

Experiencing hand grip loss

For a while now, when I get up, my hands have been stiff and my feet have been stiff and sore to the point that it is difficult at first to walk on them. Things generally loosen up with time and a hot shower.

The grip loss is affects my ability to accomplish tasks

However, I’ve noticed it’s increasingly difficult to accomplish tasks that require me to grip something for any length of time. At first, it was when I’d do something for a long period of time – like cooking soups or stews that require a lot of prep work, making a roux or need several hours of simmering and stirring. My hands would start to cramp and throb and it would be painful to grasp kitchen utensils.

As time went on, it took less and less to aggravate my hands. Now it includes quick simple, tasks like blow-drying my hair which is about two inches long and takes about five minutes to style. I’m starting to use Voltaren gel like I would otherwise use hand lotion. In addition, I’ll often wake in the middle of the night with painful hands and feet.

What is causing this to happen?

It’s true that rust never sleeps and, unfortunately, neither does RA. I just can’t figure out what’s causing this to happen. I have been on a fairly aggressive treatment plan since the beginning of the year. While things haven’t been perfect, they have at least been better. Additionally, I stopped working full-time last November; and since I’m no longer spending long hours using a computer keyboard, my hands should be benefitting from not having to work so hard.

This grip loss is a worrisome development

I’ve always been secretly a bit smug that while I’ve had some enlargement of the joints in my hands, I haven’t had the debilitating pain or deformity that some people experience. True, I’ve had significant joint damage and related replacements. But while hips and knees and shoulders are involved in many aspects of daily life, your hands are involved in everything.

One of the guidelines for discussing a change in your treatment plan with your rheumatologist is new or worsening symptoms. I’m not sure that this will cause us to change course (yet again), but it’s certainly a worrisome development. But it’s occasions such as these that really underscore having good, open communication with your rheumatologist.

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