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I’m Losing my Grip

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • tckrd
    1 year ago

    Every time I read something from you it seems to mirror what I am going through. Diagnosed with Ra in 2015 and just added ankylosing spondylitus in March. I am on my 3rd remicade infusion and things just keep getting worse. All of the problems your experiencing I am going through also. Plus add my neck. I don’t drive because I can’t turn my head far enough to be safe. It feels like my feet and hands will explode. It’s funny how when you read someone else is experiencing what you are going through can make you feel a little better. Thank you.

  • Wren moderator
    3 years ago

    Aw, Carla! Just what you needed, right? RD knows no limits! 🙁

    Karen and Brenda made some fabulous suggestions for dealing with stiff and painful hands, and I’ve got a couple more. I sometimes buy pre-chopped veggies for recipes, and, while I don’t like them as much, I also use frozen veg now and then. (I love fresh best, but this disease often requires compromises!)

    Also, if you don’t already have one, get a home paraffin bath for your hands. Some are available that are large enough for feet, too. The deep heat feels incredibly soothing and can loosen things up for a while. I’ll also fill a bathroom sink with the hottest water I can stand and soak my hands. You can do the same for your feet with a plastic tub in the bathtub.

    You probably already know this, but shoes with a flat or slight heel, a good arch support, cushioned soles, and a wide toe box may help you get through the day on painful feet. They may also prevent pain, but with RD, that’s a toss-up. At least they won’t aggravate it any more than necessary. (And yes, say goodbye to pretty shoes. Sigh.)

    All that said, I’m so sorry this beast of a disease has added your hands and feet to the mix. Sending a warm hug and best wishes your way.

  • Karen
    3 years ago

    Vanicream lotion works great to use with the volteran. That stuff really drys out my feet and hands and elbows and…

    As for cooking or any other chore – do not stay at the same task for more than a few minutes. Chop for a bit, peel for a bit, stir for a bit.
    When cleaning or doing outside work it is the same thing. Change your position often. the repetitive will get to you.

    Drives my husband nuts that I don’t finish one job before moving to the next. :~) Most times I do finish what I have set out to do.

    Except yard work – that is never ending this time of year!

  • Brenda N
    3 years ago

    For me, it was extreme stiffness and pain in my right hand that led me to my PCP and my RA diagnosis. I had been knitting a baby sweater for an upcoming baby shower, and it became a struggle to complete. Since then, no more knitting, so I’ve taken up weaving, instead.

    Like you, I love to cook, and have challenges in the kitchen. Chopping with a knife is painful, so I’m using my food processor more. I also pulled out the grating accessories that came with it and started using them. I also use my blender for blending wet ingredients instead of a whisk, when possible. Luckily, I have a husband to remove the jar lids I can no longer remove myself. I also use a lot of cast iron and haven’t found a solution for that, yet.

    The pain in my wrist and middle finger would wake me up at night. One thing that has helped is that I always wear a compression glove plus wrist splint to bed every night (naps, too), or if it’s a bad day, all day. This seems to keep me from moving both in ways that might contribute to the pain. I also wear the splint to my exercise classes, even if it’s just spinning. And no more hand planks.

    Typing on a keyboard doesn’t seem to be a problem, but the location of my hand and fingers on a trackpad are. I’ve made adjustments there, as well. I also wear the compression glove when at the computer.

    I think I’m finally starting to see some relief, although you never know. Good luck.

  • Carla Kienast author
    3 years ago

    Hi Brenda: Thanks so much for chiming in. I’m sorry that you seem to have such problems with your hands, although you have got some great “life hacks” for keeping on doing the things you both enjoy and need to get accomplished. You’ve reminded me that I have a pair of compression gloves I’ve never worn (never needed them before now). I’ve got a big weekend of cooking coming up so I’m really glad you took the time to share! I think you’ve saved me a lot of pain and aggravation.

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