Key Takeaways

  • Pain from arthritis can limit your participation in daily activities, especially cooking.

  • There are ways you can improve hand function and decrease pain which don’t involve taking medication.

  • Some of these include protecting your joints, using adaptive equipment, changing how you cook, wearing a splint, and building strength through exercise. 

Arthritis is a reality for the majority of U.S. adults who are 65 and older. According to a recent study published in Arthritis & Rheumatology, there are 91 million U.S adults with arthritis—56% of the men and 69% of the women in the study were 65 and older.

Arthritis pain can have a significant impact on many areas of your health and well-being, especially when it affects your hands. The loss of control in your hands can lead to less participation in activities that are important to you. That's why managing your arthritis pain is important in helping you to continue performing those activities.

Below are some tips you can use to help manage pain from arthritis and improve your ability to continue cooking your favorite dishes!

Protect Your Joints

Sometimes our “normal” way of doing things can increase stress on our joints, which in turn increases pain, stiffness, and could even worsen your condition. Due to this, we need to practice protecting our joints when we are using our hands. Joint protection is changing how you complete activities to reduce the stress on painful joints. Below are do’s and don’ts to keep in mind when preparing food.  

Do's Dont's 

Use larger handles for a more comfortable grip or add foam tubing (or pipe insulation to handles to increase handle size 

Grip forcefully or pinch

Use your bigger joints to complete tasks such as wrist, elbow, or shoulder

Repeatedly grip and pinch

Use the palms of your hand instead of your fingers when opening lids

 Keep the position of your hand in one place

Use tools such as scissors to open packages versus your thumbs    

 

Use two hands instead of one, when possible    

 

Use Adaptive Equipment 

Chopping, cutting, stirring, opening jars, handling cookware, lifting objects, and even standing to prepare and cook your meal can be very discouraging when your joints are stiff, swollen, and painful. 

Use tools or utensils with the following features: Longer handles to increase leverage, no-slip handles with increased diameter, handles which allow you to keep your arm in neutral (thumbs up position), and tools or equipment that does the work for you.

The following tools may help make cooking easier, less painful, and may significantly improve your enjoyment when preparing meals. 

Kitchen gadgets:

  • Food processor
  • Blender 
  • Electric mixer

Tools for cutting or peeling food:

  • Rocker Knives
  • Mandolin 
  • Easy grip upright knife; Knives that allow varied grips 
  • Rolling knife or pizza cutter 
  • Larger rubbery handles on peelers and scrubbers
  • Press top chopper
  • Palm peelers

Tools for opening jars, cans, and packaging:

  • Flat rubber grip for opening jars
  • Long handled jar opener
  • Under cabinet mounted jar opener 
  • Larger handle manual can opener 
  • Electric jar or can opener
  • Spring loaded (self-opening) scissors
  • Use bowls with silicone bottoms to reduce grip required to steady bowl

Change How You Cook 

Preserving your energy and strength can allow you to complete the entire task before pain and fatigue force you to stop early. Below are some helpful tips. 

Optimize Your Kitchen Workspace Reduce Physical Stressors

Plan your kitchen with a place to sit while working

Take frequent breaks before your hands become tired

Organize a work corner near sink with frequently used spices, cutlery, and other equipment

Plan ahead to decrease the need for repetitive tasks

Place commonly used items on countertops or low shelves to reduce the need to lift/lower objects

Avoid heavy lifting by using a slotted spoon or spaghetti server to scoop out cooked noodles instead of carrying a full pot back to the sink to drain

Use a portable kitchen timer when baking to prevent unnecessary walking to test food doneness

Place the mixing bowl in the sink for a more comfortable height while stirring

 

Plan Ahead With Food Prep Incorporate Smart Cooking Techniques

Buy pre-cut foods or microwavable dinners

Use light-weight pans 

Freeze meat until partially frozen before slicing or cubing

Place a wet soapy sponge over dried splatters on the counter top for easier clean up later

Cook extra food and freeze what you don't need for future use

Use smaller pans or containers to “fill” larger pan with water

When cutting sticks of food (carrot, celery, etc), cut each stalk 3 or 4 times lengthwise before cutting into shorter sticks

Place the mixing bowl in the sink for a more comfortable height while stirring

Scald fruit in hot water for 1 minute for easier peeling

Line baking pans with parchment paper to prevent sticking for easier clean up

Boil potatoes in skins, then cool under cold running water for easier peeling

Use one pot cooking such as crock pot or Instapot

Empty ice cube trays into plastic bags for easy removal and use

Slide pots or bowls across the counter on a hot pad versus picking them up and carrying them

Wear a Splint

There is good evidence that thumb splints help maintain good joint position to decrease hand pain, improve hand function, and may even improve grip strength. There are many over-the-counter options available, or you can ask your local health care provider about a custom-fitting splint. When you are shopping for a splint, look for words such as CMC splint or thumb spica splint.

If you are purchasing an over-the counter splint, some tips for a good fit include: 

  • Snug but not tight (not loose enough to slide on your hand)
  • Include the base of the thumb only or the base of the thumb and middle joint (you should be able to bend the tip of your thumb)
  • Allow you to grasp and pinch objects with less pain

Exercise and Lifestyle Management 

Every day habits like getting physical activity, eating a nutrient-dense foods, and using tools for pain relief can also help to improve symptoms and make cooking easier. Explore suggestions for movement to increase flexibility, strength, endurance, and balance from the National Institute on Aging's Go4Life website. Additionally, your local healthcare provider (or a referral to an occupational therapist/hand therapist) can provide instructions and guidance on general grip strengthening and thumb stability exercises.

Daily physical activity Heat for Pain Relief

Yoga

Parraffin baths

Tai Chi 

Heated gloves

Swimming

Moist heat packs around your hands

Walking

Warm water soaks

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