About 55 million adults have been diagnosed with arthritis in the United States alone, and the joints of the hands and wrists are some of the most commonly affected. This statistic doesn’t account for the many adults with undiagnosed arthritis, pre-arthritic changes, or other forms of joint pain.
Joint pain of any etiology can be exacerbated by long hours at a keyboard or on a touchscreen, and time on those devices is taking up more of our day than ever.
As a result, more and more people working from an office or remotely from home may find themselves working longer hours with fewer breaks. This can take a toll on our joints and the resulting joint pain can interfere with productivity, daily tasks, and quality of life.
Ill-designed work spaces can also contribute to these woes, and ergonomic adjustable desks can certainly help to optimize alignment and reduce joint compression, but there are also some movements you can do during the day to reduce pain, stiffness, and discomfort in the hands and wrists.
Steffany Moonaz is not only a yoga therapist and public health researcher who has spent the last 20 years understanding lifestyle management of arthritis and chronic pain, but also someone who lives with joint pain herself, and has to manage it each day.
Below you will find her suggestions for five exercises you can try when your hands and wrists need a break from the keyboard or any other repetitive activity.
1. Finger Wiggle
If you ever pretended to play “air piano” as a kid, that’s what this movement looks like. Keep all of your fingers loose and wiggle them freely without any particular pattern or intention. Imagine the synovial fluid sloshing around in the joints and lubricating them, bringing ease into the fingers.
Once you’ve finished that, you can shake your hands downward as if you just washed them and there isn’t a towel available.
Read more: what causes numbness in arms and hands while sleeping
2. Wrist Roll
Sitting up tall in your chair, hold the hands in front of you with the shoulders relaxed and the elbows at your sides.
Roll both of the wrists out a few times and then in a few times. Follow that by rolling both wrists to the right (clockwise) and then both to the left (counter-clockwise). Do this just a few times each so that you don’t experience fatigue or soreness in the wrists.
As with the activity above, follow it with a shake of the hands down at your sides to release any tension throughout the arms.
3. Thumb Tap
Hold the hands out in front of you (as with the above exercise) or let the forearms rest on the edge of a desk/table. Let the shoulders relax down but sit up tall through the spine.
Start by bringing the pointer finger toward the thumb on both hands. They might touch or they might not, which is fine.
Next, bring the middle fingers to the thumbs and release. Follow that by bringing the ring fingers to the thumbs and then the pinkies to the thumbs.
For a calming mindfulness practice, you can breathe in and then out with each finger touch. You can also repeat a 4-word or syllable phrase. When I lead kids in this activity, they come up with everything from “I love ice cream” to “Peace begins with me”! Find a way to bring some joy or fun to this activity, along with the benefits for your hands and fingers.
4. Wrist Flop
Hold your hands out in front of you with the fingertips pointing up, so you’re looking at your fingernails. Let the wrists flex so the hands flop forward and down.
Return the fingertips upward and repeat. Try breathing in when you lift the fingers and let out a big sigh Hiwhen they drop down. The sigh can actually help to release muscle tension and calm the nervous system where pain resides.
5. Hand Spread
This can be done standing or sitting with your arms down by your sides.
Spread the hands so that the fingers are as wide apart as possible and it feels like you are stretching the palms. Bring the hands into loose fists without squeezing tightly.
Repeat spreading the hands wide and bringing them into fists. If a fist isn’t possible or comfortable, just close the hands however is available to you. It’s the closing and opening that matters more than the actual shape your hands make.
As with the other movements, only do this a few times and then shake the hands out to release any tension. When you are finished with these movements, let your hands rest gently in your lap and see if you notice any differences in how the hands and wrists feel.
Try these movements to determine what brings you relief. Everyone is different and no one knows your body better than you. If these movements are helpful, try to use them regularly. If they don’t feel good, let them go and find what works for you.
If you have any questions about what movements are safe and appropriate for you, please consult a trusted healthcare provider.
And to learn more about how yoga and movement can help arthritis, visit our home page at www.arthritis.yoga or reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the author
Dr. Steffany Moonaz, PhD, C-IAYT, is the Director of Clinical and Academic Research at the Maryland University of Integrative Health, and Director of Health Coaching for Corporate Health Solutions in Jamison, PA. She founded Yoga For Arthritis
to help people suffering from arthritis and raise awareness in t