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Exercise and stretch breaks can keep your hands healthy

Special to the Journal

By Mark C. Malys, PT, CHT

The warmer days of spring can give your hands a workout from gardening, sports, and outdoor activities that can bring stiffness and pain after a day in the sun.

Pain from tendonitis can be caused by excessive use or unconditioned use of the muscles and tendons in your forearms and wrists. Repetitive or prolonged activities such as racquet sports, carpentry, painting, spring clean-up, and gardening can all be triggers. Forearm and wrist tendonitis may also occur from other activities involving forceful or repetitive gripping of the hand commonly done during spring house and car cleaning. Excessive use of vibratory equipment such as lawnmowers or power tools can also injure muscles and tendons.

The symptoms associated with tendonitis can begin with pain and stiffness in the wrist and forearm following an activity. Typically, the pain occurs during or after the activity. As the condition progresses, pain may be felt with every day activities involving the wrist and fingers such as opening containers, shaking hands, or typing. Some patients can experience weakness in their fingers and hands, making gripping and holding objects difficult.

The best way to avoid tendonitis, if you have not been regularly exercising during the winter, is not overdoing activities that use a lot of repetitive wrist and hand motions. Be careful about suddenly increasing activities that stress your muscles and tendons.

Regular exercise is essential in maintaining good hand health and overall wellness. Many studies have shown that exercise can reduce pain and improve function in people who have arthritis, another common hand issue especially for seniors. After starting a regular exercise program, many people notice their symptoms decrease, while their sleep and general health improves.

Check with your physician to find out if you are ready for a regular exercise program, and start slow to build strength and conditioning. Exercises to prevent tendonitis and to decrease the symptoms of arthritis takes three forms: stretching, strengthening, and conditioning.

Stretching involves moving joints and muscles to regain their normal range of motion. These exercises include gentle stretching and controlled movements to take joints through their full range of motion. Doing these exercises regularly can help maintain and improve the flexibility. If stretching is too uncomfortable, try moving the joint through its pain free range of motion every day.

Strengthening involves moving muscles against resistance. Strong muscles can support and protect joints, and improve tendon tensile strength.

Conditioning exercise improves aerobic fitness and endurance.

The three components work together to improve range of motion, muscle tone and endurance, which can improve hand function and prevent future injuries.

Many exercises can be done at home, but an exercise class or gym membership may help keep you motivated. Physical therapists and athletic trainers can show you the best ways to exercise for your specific condition. Therapeutic yoga and tai chi are other low-impact exercise options that are effective in reducing pain from tendonitis and arthritis, while improving flexibility, and also helping to reduce stress.

Mark C. Malys is a Physical Therapist and a Certified Hand Therapist with the Cayuga Health System that includes Cayuga Medical Center and Schuyler Hospital. His areas of specialty include hand, wrist, elbow, and shoulder therapy and Ergonomic Assessment. He has been practicing physical therapy since 1990.  You may contact him at Cayuga Medical Center Physical Therapy at Cayuga wellness Center  607-252-3500.

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