Hand Health

According to the American Society for Surgery of the Hand, our hands are very complicated machines. Each hand is made up of approximately 29 bones, 29 major joints, at least 123 ligaments, 34 muscles, and 48 nerves.

When people talk about hand and wrist pain, the symptoms often point to arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome. We will explain the difference and then show you some ways that you might be able to relieve some of the stress and pain.

To better understand why our hands hurt, let’s look at how our hand works. The bones are connected at a joint and held together with a ligament, which works like a rubber band keeping everything together. To keep the bones from grinding against each other, they are covered with a padding called cartilage. Just like many machines, the joint needs some lubrication. So, the joint is surrounded by a capsule filled with fluid. When things go wrong, our hands hurt. Arthritis is one of those things, which is inflammation of the joints. The causes are varied, including trauma, infection, degenerative issues, and even autoimmune diseases. There are actually over 100 medical conditions associated with arthritis. Arthritis is the main cause of disability for those fifty-five years and older, though there are many forms of arthritis that impact young people.

Here are two of the more common types of arthritis:

Osteoarthritis concerns the cartilage, which begins to wear away. In our hands the tendons and ligaments get stretched and over time the bones may actually start to rub against each other. The symptoms get worse over time. The joint is painful and may be tender. Your joint loses its flexibility and you may develop bone spurs with a grating sensation. Hands, knees, hips and spine are the most likely areas to get osteoarthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis concerns the fluid capsule, which becomes inflamed. This type of arthritis can lead to deformity. Ladies, it affects us more often than mean and is most common when we are between 40 and 60 years old. Often the joints are painful and stiff first thing in the morning. Most people have several areas affected all at the same time, beginning with the smaller joints. Often you will see bumps appear around the joints. This is a progressive disease often moving from the hands and wrists or ankles and feet to the hip, neck, shoulders, and even into the jaw.

One big question is whether exercise helps or hurts the condition. For arthritis, inactivity can actually make it worse because joints become stiffer and your muscles get weaker, which can impact your entire well being. In fact, if you remain physically active you are most likely to live longer and be able to function better during the day and sleep better at night. The pain is often caused by muscle spasms around the joint. At home, a heating pad can help relax the muscles and thus reduce the pain.

A BIT OF TRIVIA: According to WebMD “Knuckle “cracking” has not been shown to be harmful or beneficial. More specifically, knuckle cracking does not cause arthritis. Joint “cracking” can result from a negative pressure pulling nitrogen gas temporarily into the joint, such as when knuckles are “cracked.” This is not harmful. “Cracking” sounds can also be heard if tendons snap over tissues because of minor adjustments in their gliding paths. This can occur with aging as muscle mass and action change.” WebMD does go on to say if there is pain or discomfort with the cracking, you need to see your doctor.

How does arthritis differ from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome involves the nerve that runs from your palm into your forearm. This nerve is the median nerve and is responsible for the feeling in the palm side of your thumb and first three fingers. The little finger is not impacted by this nerve. The tunnel is really a narrow passage of bones and ligaments at the base of your hand that the median nerve and tendon goes through. When something happens to that passage or tendons swell, it decreases the size of the tunnel and compresses the nerves. Depending on the severity you might have a little pain or your hand and wrist may be completely numb. It’s important to note that this is a problem with pressure on the nerve. You could have pain in your wrist due to an injury to the muscle like a sprain or a fracture to the wrist. Those conditions can lead to swelling which may aggravate the nerve as well.

Carpal tunnel syndrome usually impacts your dominate hand first. You may not even notice symptoms at first. As the condition continues you may get a tingling or itching in your palm. You are likely to notice it more when you first wake up because of the way your wrists are flexed when you sleep. Then symptoms will begin to occur during the day. Your thumb is an indicator of possible trouble. If your thumb doesn’t function well, like picking up small things, or can’t distinguish between cold and hot, then you should see a doctor.

Causes of carpal tunnel can be associated with hypothyroidism, an overactive pituitary gland, or fluid retention during pregnancy or menopause. Women are more likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome than men. It is possible that repetitive jobs can cause carpal tunnel syndrome. Assembly line workers are three times more likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome than those who work on the computer all day.

Keeping our Hands Healthy

Let’s look at a few things we can do to make our stitching time more enjoyable.

Foremost is paying attention to where you are stitching and watching your posture. Be aware of slouching, awkward cushions or seating, pillows that get in the way, and how you hold your frame and needles. If you find yourself sitting in a position so long that you develop cramps or are sore, try setting a timer to remind you to get up and stretch, or change positions to alleviate unnecessary pressure.

What if we think of our hands in an athletic sense? A 5K course is 3.1 miles long. An average walker will take about 45 minutes to finish the course. That walker is not going to start the 5K without warming up first. Do you remember how many muscles there were in our hands? There is something to be said about building up hand strength and endurance as well, and always being aware of stress on your hands or wrists.

A booklet written by Frederikka T. Payne called Pain Prevention Exercises for Knitters published in 1996 contains a great warm up exercise. She recommends filling a bucket or basin of water with as hot of water as you can comfortably stand. You want to be able to put your arm in up to your elbow if possible. You start by relaxing your hand and letting it soak for two minutes. Next repeat the first two exercises ten times. Stretch your fingers wide and hold for a count of 5. Then bend your fingertips down and hold for a count of 5. Then push your stretch further by repeating the next two exercises ten times also. Stretch your fingers wide and hold for a count of 5. Make a first and hold for a count of five. Here are the three hand positions: open, fingertips down, fist.

Here are a couple of other exercises that you can do before, during, and after your stitching session.

Wrist Stretch: Place your hands in a praying position at chest level with your fingers closed. Then raise your elbows up so they are parallel to the ground. While your hands and elbows are in this position slowly spread your fingers apart, keeping your palms together and then close them again. Repeat this five times.

Wrist Flex: Extend your arm out and bend your hand up. With your other hand, gently bend your wrist back to give it a little stretch. Change hands.

Wrist drop: Just like your thread sometimes your wrists need to “unwind”. Let your arms drop to your sides and gently shake your hands. Slowly rotate your hands in a clockwise circle, then reverse directions.

A pair of special gloves can gently support and massage your hands while you stitch. Nordic Needle sells two brands, each in small, medium, and large sizes.

After a session of stitching, pamper your hands with some lotion and a light massage.

Nordic Needle also sells protective lotions.

This wonderful website shows how to release wrist trigger points and other sore spots on your hand. It involves massaging the muscles of the forearm.

So all in all, do not take your hands for granted! Make sure they are cared for and stretched, and hopefully they will remain in wonderful stitching condition your entire life.


We hope this guide makes your stitching easier and more enjoyable!

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2 thoughts on “Hand Health

  1. Thanks for the anatomy lesson. I don’t have any problems with my hands right now, but I’m going to do these exercises anyway. Maybe they will prevent future problems or keep any problems I may have from being too severe. I want to keep stitching as long as I can. Thanks again.

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