Arthritic hands mean my arms are weakening

Jane mugshot for JQAI am 70 and have severe osteoarth­ritis in my hands and wrists. Although I keep healthy and act­ive (walk­ing and swim­ming), I am start­ing to lose muscle tone in my arms — obvi­ously I can’t lift weights. Can you sug­gest some­thing?

As you will be aware, with severe arth­ritis in your hands, even simple tasks sud­denly become dif­fi­cult to impossible, if they require intric­ate fin­ger move­ments or a good grip.

Your swim­ming should be very use­ful for main­tain­ing good strength in your arms and shoulders, but ideally you need to be doing at least two ses­sions a week. You might also have a go at an aqua-​aerobics class. These days there are quite a few classes spe­cific­ally for seni­ors (check with your local leis­ure centre), and you should find water equip­ment easier to man­age than tra­di­tional gym equip­ment. An aqua workout can be very chal­len­ging, will def­in­itely help with arm strength as well as heart and lung fit­ness – and they’re a lot of fun.

You say you can­not lift weights, but in fact it may be pos­sible with the help of some adapt­a­tions. For home exer­cise, the equip­ment you’d need depends on just how affected your hands are by the arth­ritis. Here’s some sug­ges­tions:

  • adjustable wrist weights wrap around your wrists so you can do arm exer­cises as though you were hold­ing weights in your hands. If you have no grip at all, these are a good solu­tion. Powerhouse and Physical Company are examples of sup­pli­ers . Note that they can usu­ally double up as ankle weights for leg strength exer­cises, too!
  • sup­port gloves, such as these from Newgrip, give you extra grip. Some have extra wrist sup­port, too. If you have a little grip strength this is a ver­sat­ile option, and you can even get an easy-​to-​put-​on “glove”
  • Soft-​covered hand weights with an elastic over-​hand strap are suit­able if you can grip but would like extra secur­ity when lift­ing the weight
  • Soft-​grip hand weights like these ball-​shaped weights or pillow-​shaped wieghts, are designed for people with poor grip
  • Stretchy bands are very ver­sat­ile and you can get a handle attach­ment, such as this from Physical Company, that makes grip­ping easier.

Whichever you go for, it would be a wise invest­ment to organ­ise a ses­sion or two with a suit­ably qual­i­fied per­sonal trainer (REPS Level 3 with Disabled People cer­ti­fic­ate). They will set you a proper pro­gramme includ­ing mobil­ity and stretch exer­cises along­side your strength work. And they’ll set you off at the right level and with good tech­nique, so you don’t end up hurt­ing your­self.

I hope you haven’t given up on your hands: how­ever badly affected they are, you may still be able to get some strength­en­ing and mobil­ity bene­fit by doing simple but import­ant daily exer­cises. Arthritis Care has a very good exer­cise book­let and you can get hand, wrist and fin­ger strength­en­ing aids from Yourable.

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