Skip to Accessibility Tools Skip to Content Skip to Footer
T-rex torso attempting to reach a cup in front of them

Coping with T-Rex Arms

It’s a long-running joke between my husband and me that I have T-Rex arms. In fact, I even have a funny T-Rex t-shirt I wear that jokes about short arms.

While I’ve made a joke about my arms, it is indeed very frustrating! My challenges come from a combination of not just having short arms, but also having significant elbow contractions that have severely restricted my reach and movement since I was a child with rheumatoid arthritis. Ever since I can remember, I’ve had difficulty reaching things.

When I was a kid, we placed certain items on the refrigerator door or on the edge of the shelf so that I could reach them myself when I got home from school. I had to do a lot of planning ahead to make sure my snacks were reachable!

Thankful for RA-friendly gadgets

Gadgets have always been useful for helping with my reach. I have one of those grabbers that closes by pulling a handle. But my favorite reaching tool is a long wooden stick with a metal hook on one end and rubber-coated bends on the other. It’s become such a versatile tool for reaching that I never leave home without it.

With my “hook” (as I call it), I can open doors, push elevator buttons, and swipe at items to pull them closer to me. Really, there are infinite uses for my hook. In college, a friend dubbed it the “hook of death” because she imagined it could pull out my enemies’ brains (much like the Egyptian embalming process – note: I never actually tried this).

There have been lots of times when I’ve grabbed my hook to tap an elevator button and a stranger has made some comment about being impressed both with my tool and my skill at handling it. But I’m not sure that many people have really given much thought to the challenges of a short reach. Just about everyone has imagined: what would it like to be blind, deaf, or not be able to walk? Almost no one has thought about: what if I couldn’t reach?

The impact of RA on arm-reach

Although I joke about it, having limited reach is a problem. I’ve learned to work around it by using my hook and strategizing. And there are plenty of times when I have to ask others for help. “Can you reach that for me?” Stores are a major challenge. Why is it that it always seems the item I want is on the top shelf?! Actually, that would be bad enough, but anything above the first few is too high for me!

One situation where I have struggled with my reach is eating out. I need my glass to be closer than many waiters may be used to. Sometimes it results in a minor tug of war where I ask my husband to move my glass where I can reach it and then waitstaff move it again when they refill. However, most waiters are observant when I move my glass close and notice my shortened reach.

The struggle with T-Rex arms is real! Sometimes it is the situations and challenges I struggle with most that I make the most jokes about. Short arms are one of those things! Putting on my T-Rex shirt after a frustrating day gives me a chuckle and also reminds me of an important lesson. T-Rex is running with his short, little arms outstretched. But he is clenching a reacher and saying “I am unstoppable.” That clever T-Rex has adapted, just like me. And also (just like me), the T-Rex persists through challenges and frustrations. T-Rex doesn’t give up on his dreams just because his arms are short. He keeps his eyes on the prize and keeps going!

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

Comments

  • polskawoman
    7 months ago

    Wow. I’ve never felt such a recognition before! I’ve had RA since I was 2 and I also have severe contractures in my shoulders and elbows, as well as disjointed wrists. Even my boyfriend, who has similar but less severe contractures from cerebral palsy, doesn’t understand what I go through. I have become a teacher/grabber tool whiz, and my apartment is set up for my reach as much as it can be, but if I visit my mom or sisters, it is so frustrating! I can’t do most things for myself there, and as an independent type, oh how it works my nerves! Anyway, thanks for speaking my mind. It’s pretty amazing when someone just gets it.

  • David Advent moderator
    7 months ago

    Hi @polskawoman, I’m glad to hear this article resonated with you. It’s always wonderful when someone can speak directly to your own personal experience. Thank you for sharing your experiences with RA and for being a member of this community! Please know we are here to support you along your journey with RA. -David (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team Member)

  • polskawoman
    7 months ago

    Wow. I’ve never felt such a recognition before! I’ve had RA since I was 2 and I also have severe contractions in my shoulders and elbows, as well as disjointed wrists. Even my boyfriend, who has similar but less severe contractures from cerebral palsy, doesn’t understand what I go through. I have become a teacher/grabber tool whiz, and my apartment is set up for my reach as much as it can be, but if I visit my mom or sisters, it is so frustrating! I can’t do most things for myself there, and as an independent type, oh how it works my nerves! Anyway, thanks for speaking my mind. It’s pretty amazing when someone just gets it.

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    7 months ago

    Thanks polskawoman–feels good to have people who ‘get it’! I hear you. Sometimes limitations are situational in that once we set things up to fit our needs we are good. I’ve been there! Best, Kelly (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • lmilota4
    8 months ago

    My t-rex arms are when i can’t move my arms from shoulder to Elbow, can just move lower arms. This isn’t all the time. My t-rex shirt is from Disney and says If your happy and you know it, clap your
    …oh forget it

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    7 months ago

    LOL! I’ve seen that t-rex shirt and love it! Thanks imilota4. 🙂 Best, Kelly (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • JanetEJ
    8 months ago

    I can relate! I’m 4 foot 10 inches (barely) and have a nasty case of RA. Reaching much of anything is definitely a chore. Thankfully, people are often very kind and will help a short girl out. 🙂

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    7 months ago

    Agreed! Kindness from strangers definitely helps! 🙂 Take care! Best, Kelly (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • rochelle b
    8 months ago

    Do you have a picture of your hook tool? Interested in getting one or making one
    I struggle the same and I wear my RA t-shirts to give myself a chuckle also. Humor keeps me from crying!

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    7 months ago

    Sure, rochelleb. Here’s a link to the hook tool that I find helpful: https://www.performancehealth.com/dressing-stick-deluxe#sin=95633. I can use it to help put on and take off shirts. Best, Kelly (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • Bozwriter
    8 months ago

    I also have T-Rex arms. My right is contacted to around 90° and left is not much better. My doctor wants me to talk to an orthopedic surgeon about a tendon release but they’ve been this way 30 years and not sure it would help. I wanted to ask what the hook you spoke of was and where you got it. It sounds wonderful. I have a grabber and use a finger on a stick to push buttons at drive throughs at the pharmacy and the bank. I’ve had RA since childhood as well.

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    7 months ago

    Hi Bozwriter, whatever you decide I hope it works out for you. I do find different gadgets very helpful. Here’s a link to the hook/stick that I find useful: https://www.performancehealth.com/dressing-stick-deluxe#sin=95633. Good to meet another JRA/JIA buddy! Best, Kelly (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • kat-elton
    8 months ago

    Great article Kelly, and another one I relate to as well. I have one arm about four inches shorter that the other, so I’m half t-rex! Luckily I have my left arm that reaches things better than my t-rex arm but I’m grateful for both 🙂

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    7 months ago

    🙂 I like that Kat–half T-Rex! 🙂 Yes, I am grateful for arms too. Even if they are shorter than I’d like! Best, Kelly (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • MrsMiller
    8 months ago

    Oh this made me LOL!!! I have t-Rex arms too and it’s a running joke in our house too. Now I’m having shoulder pain, so it’s worse. Thanks for making me smile . Love your articles

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    7 months ago

    Glad to help with some smiles MrsMiller! 🙂 Best, Kelly (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • janetd54
    8 months ago

    I have the same problem with my arms. I have RA in my elbows and hands. I have my daughter put everything on the lower shelves in my cabinets and everywhere else in my house. I had a teacher but it broke and I haven’t replaced it.

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    7 months ago

    Hi janetd54, yes–planning ahead with where things are placed/stored is really helpful. Sometimes I forget how important that is! Best, Kelly (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • Susie Que
    8 months ago

    I’m short to start with and when I can’t reach out it makes it impossible to do most things. I’m very independent, so to ask someone to reach for me is not something that comes naturally. I’m getting there though. I love my gadgets too, I have many by now. I’ve had numerous spinal fusions and I receive many new gadgets every time. They are a godsend.

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    7 months ago

    Totally agree Susie Que! Gadgets are awesome! Best, Kelly (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • lynport
    8 months ago

    Hi,
    I hope it’s OK for me to say that if you need a purpose-made gizmo to help you do things, there is likely to be a Remap Panel somewhere near you. The volunteers are often retired engineers and makers who will design and make what you need – for free! (Donations welcome!). Look us up online or phone 01732 760204 for your nearest Panel.
    Best wishes, Lynda

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    7 months ago

    Thanks Lynda! I do have a lot of helpful gadgets that help me with reaching. Appreciate the suggestion! Best, Kelly (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • Poll