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    CookingCooking for the Holidays
    Wrist and Hand Health in the Kitchen

    According to professional hand therapists, while burns and cuts are the most common cooking injuries, repetitive stress injuries and arthritis pain can also plague budding and professional chefs as they prepare Thanksgiving and other holiday feasts.

    Spending all day in the kitchen mixing, chopping, stirring and lifting can take its toll on hand and wrist ligaments. The added stress of these activities may aggravate existing painful conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis or arthritis. For those with weakened or damaged joints due to arthritis, heavy lifting or repetitive motion may actually cause increased inflammation and joint damage.

    Here's how you can protect your hands and prevent injuries while in the kitchen:

    • Use the Right Tool for the Job.
      Use easy-to-grip versions of tools like spoons, knives, and bottle/can openers to decrease the stress on your hands and use scissors to open bags (or packages) instead of your thumbs. Look for tools that have oversized handles (rather than narrow/standard); this will allow you to get the job done without requiring a tight grip and pinch.

    • Sit and Stand Straight.
      Correct posture is important because the nerves that operate your fingers start in your neck. Slouching puts pressure on the neck and shoulders, which in turn can hinder the amount of motion in your arms and hands or may cause pain radiating down your arms. During activities that require you to be looking down at what you are doing, like chopping vegetables, take a moment to stand up straight, turn your head side to side/up and down, and stretch your arms over your head.

    • Slide, Don't Lift.
      Do not lift heavy pots and pans-slide them off burners and onto hot pads along the counter whenever possible. When working in the oven, always slide the shelf out so you can get a good, safe grasp of the pan handles. If the pot is heavy, ask for help to take it out of the oven. This may take more time, but always choose safety over speed in the kitchen.

    • Use Mitt-Style Potholders.
      The mitt-style potholder is generally safer than the simple flat design. Mitt styles protect both the top and bottom of your hands and let you concentrate on picking up the hot dish rather than trying to keep a flat potholder from sliding away from the hot handle.

    • Clean Cutlery Carefully.
      When washing your cutlery, do not put knives and sharp tools in the soapy dishwater and then search blindly to find them. If you miss the handle and grab the blade, you may cut the tendons in your hand, which may require surgery and rehabilitation. Instead, clean knives individually with soap and water and rinse immediately.

    • Use Lightweight Kitchen Equipment.
      Using plastic instead of glass when having a house full of guests is safer for many reasons. Plastic is not likely to break and it is easier to stack. It is also easier to transport from room to room because of its lighter weight.

    • Keep Your Shoulders Down.
      While working in the kitchen, your arms should be at your sides and the counters you work on should be waist high. Many kitchen counters are too high for the average person. As a result, you may be forced to raise the shoulder you are using to cut the food and lean to the opposite side of your body when preparing food. This causes increased stress on the neck, shoulder and arm muscles and nerves.

    • Don't Use the Naked Hand with Jars and Tops.
      Unscrewing a tight jar lid can be tough on your finger and wrist joints. Before you open any jar or bottle, turn it upside down and tap the bottom lightly against the countertop two or three times. Listen for the jar to pop, indicating that the suction has been broken. If the jar has previously been opened, you may try running the lid under warm water to soften any dried product holding the lid closed. Then use a rubber top or a “Y” jar opener to finish opening the top. Better yet, select those cans at the store that can be opened with an electric can opener. It is recommended to use an electric can opener whenever possible as this activity can be particularly difficult for those with weakened or sore hands.

    • Pay Attention.
      It is hard to focus on the task at hand when family and friends are vying for your attention. When chopping, removing hot items from the oven, or carrying a heavy object, it is important to take your time and watch what you are doing. These are prime opportunities to have an accident, which could result in a cut, burned or injured finger, hand or arm.

    • Slice, Dice-and Stretch.
      Stretching before, during and after a session in the kitchen can help prevent and relieve pain and injury.
      Easy Stretches You Can Do

    Professional hand therapists are highly specialized physical or occupational therapists with expertise in the delicate and essential functions of the hands, wrists, arms and shoulders.

    Call 444-5178 for more information about hand therapy at Rhode Island Hospital.

    Source: American Society of Hand Therapists