Take a moment to appreciate your hands and feet. Ever since you were a toddler, they’ve helped you to literally grab hold of life and carried you wherever you wanted to go, and yet, we often take them for granted. Whatever goals you have in mind for the future, whether it’s something minor such as carrying the shopping home, or ambitious like running a marathon, it’s worth taking extra special care of your extremities.
What causes your hands to become weaker and potentially painafflicted over time? A combination of factors, including a genetic predisposition to arthritis, the accumulated effects of a physically demanding job or a previous injury can all take their toll. Although children can suffer from arthritis, it’s mainly repetitive work that requires your hands to exert force without variation that causes the most damage, which is why arthritis is often associated with middleaged to elderly people.
In this case, the damage causes cartilage to become inflamed or wear away, leaving bone rubbing on bone. This causes joints a great deal of pain, with weakness the result. The key is to take a few simple preventative measures.
Vary your activities
Finding ways to reduce the repetitive strain on joints can be beneficial in the long term. If you suspect your job or hobby could be to blame for aches and pains, try and change the task in hand every 15 minutes. As a rule of thumb, intersperse actions such as intense-gripping or prolonged work with other activities.
• If you’re typing
stop and put in a friendly call instead. Hours spent tapping away at the keys can strain.
•If you’re digging
in the garden, break it up with watering or weeding.
• If you’re knitting
take regular breaks to stretch. Even pausing to make a cup of tea counts!
•If you’re chopping veg
split this repetitive task with your dining partner or buy a bag of ready prepared ingredients.
Hand exercises and stretching are key for healthy joints. Keeping your mitts moving helps to strengthen muscle and works to improve motion and flexibility. For nimble digits into old age, aim to perform the two stretches below at least twice a week.
• Using one hand
to stretch the other, bend your thumbs and each finger (one at time) towards your palm, gently pushing until you feel a stretch extending along the back of your hand towards your wrist. The aim isn’t to crack your knuckles, but this might happen.
•Sit at a table
with your elbow at a 90 degree angle. Using the palm of your other hand, gently push your fingers up and back towards your body until you feel the stretch. Repeat with the other hand.
It might surprise you to learn that the biggest threat to foot health is poor nutrition. That’s not just because Australians are suffering from an obesity epidemic, which in turn exerts greater pressure on soles and joints, but also to do with the type of food we’re eating.The typical Australian diet is high in processed foods. This increases the risk of developing diabetes – a complicated long-term condition that reduces nerve function and circulation, particularly in the extremities. You should also be aware if bunions run in your family. There’s a hereditary element to this painful deformity, so book an appointment with your podiatrist now to learn how to sidestep the same fate.
If the shoe fits
The second biggest threat is a little more predictable– ill-fitting shoes. Here area few things to watch out for:
• If any part of your foot feels squashed, this is likely to cause or exacerbate unsightly hammertoe, not to mention bunions.
•If anything inside your shoe is rubbing, it can quickly create a callous, which becomes a corn. Both of these triggers can result in inflammation, which is associated with foot arthritis.
Five is the magic number
The only body fat that is certain to decrease with age is in the fatty pads in our feet. To cushion tootsies against future damage, buy shoes with comfy soles (a minimum 5mm thick, with a 15mm heel), and avoid standing or moving around for long periods on hard surfaces when barefoot.Supportive house sandals or slippers are a good solution.
Ditch the thongs
No matter how thick and spongy they feel, thongs offer no support. In fact,if thongs or ballet flats are your footwear of choice, you could be putting your feet under unnecessary strain.This is because your toes have to ‘claw’ to keep them on, putting pressure on bones and changing the way you walk. It may not be the trendy option, but wear a walking shoe when you’re on the move and change into thongs or flats when you arrive at your destination.
Stretch your calves
Tight calf muscles can lead to painful plantar fasciitis (inflamed heel tissue), so it’s important to keep your joints limber. To stretch your calves, rest your hands on a kitchen counter for balance and bend one knee at 90º. Keeping your heel flat on the floor, slide the other foot back and hold the stretch for 20 seconds. Relax, then repeat with the other leg