Strength in Digits

Strength in Digits

I can happily say that except for some osteoporosis in my hips and lumbar spine I have little to no cartilage damage in my joints. I was lucky that we caught my Rheumatoid Arthritis quickly and treated heavily from the beginning. The most difficult thing for me was dealing with the side effects of these severe medications but I guess they did their job because so far so good.

However, even without the blood work or x-rays I exhibit clinical Rheumatoid Arthritis symptoms (I still maintain a seronegative diagnosis) like pain and fatigue. When I am flared up, I especially feel these in my fingers and other small joints and start losing my grip.
I drop water glasses, planters, nail polish bottles, almost anything regardless of its weight. My most memorable moment is when my father, who has osteoarthritis, and I broke my late dog’s food dish. It was a sturdy, ceramic bowl that stood strong against a big, fat Bullmastiff face. Between my dad and I we managed to drop and shatter the thing. In our defense, that bowl was heavy and it did survive four or five good drops and tosses. Excuses aside, this is when I truly realized my grip strength changed.

When my joints are in pain they shut down

I spoke to my doctor and he explained to me that sometimes when my joints are in pain they shut down. The brain releases them to prevent perceived injury. He said it was very similar in rock-climbing. It is a full body sport and the muscles tire pretty evenly. Whenever I introduce someone to climbing they always climb strong…until they don’t, until they can’t even wrap their fingers around a hold. When some of the muscles get tired, others take over. When they all fatigue the person feels totally weak and not in control of their movements. This made sense to me but frustrated me at the same time.

I was so bent on not loosening my fingers, on maintaining my grip strength that I concentrated really, really hard on clenching my them together. I stopped dropping things! But, I moved too far in the opposite direction and couldn’t break my grasp! My hands now got stuck around my dog’s leashes and I needed help to release them. I had to knock shampoo bottles out of my hand with other ones. I only released brushes after I soaked my fingers in hot water.

This didn’t surprise my father, my doctor or me. I was always susceptible to extreme holding because when I was a kid I used to hold clench my fists naturally. My mother worked tirelessly with me to relax my fingers, hands and wrists and eventually I sort of stopped doing it. I still go there as my natural resting state which causes more strain on my smaller joints. I try to rest my hands on a pillow so they don’t bend too much but that’s as far as I’ve gotten. I don’t know what else I can do to manage grip strength. Use a stress ball (I know they make something similar for rock-climbers to build finger muscle), play with playdoh? Are there any good exercises I can do?

Have you lost your grip? Let me know if and how you manage it in the comments!
 

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