You know you do it. Every minute of the day, your hands are in constant motion. Whether it’s to send a text message, jam on your guitar or type up an article such as this, you are forever putting your hands to use. But how does this constant motion affect long-term joint health? Are you hurting or preserving your hand dexterity?
Hands are made up of bones, tendons, ligaments, cartilage and joints. According to Gray’s Anatomy, with the exception of skull bones, joints allow flexible movement and provide mechanical support, and are essential to all of the various activities we explore on a second-to-second basis.
Your wrist and palm contain gliding, condyloid and saddle joints. These specific classifications of joints allow for extension, flexion, and laterial deviation, whereas the fingers – classified as hinge joints - permit flexion and extension movements. Apart from day-to-day movements, these joints help preserve physical fitnes; they allow you to crasp a dumbbell. dribble a basketball, tie a climbing knot and so much more.
But the hand, similar to a machine, has parts that are susceptible to breaking down. Like a machine, the hand requires rest in order to better function. But unfortunately, when it comes to your hands, it’s not as simple as switching it to “OFF,” or removing the plug from an outlet.
So it begs the question: Are your daily activities helping to strengthen these vitally important joints, or are they hurting them, causing life-long soreness and disease? How can you give your hands the rest they need, before it is too late?
Growing old might be inevitable, but it doesn’t have to be painful.
Conditions that diminish hand dexterity
There are two conditions that are most frequently linked with diminished dexterity of the hands: arthritis, and carpal tunnel syndrome.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, arthritis is most commonly described as “inflammation of one or more joints,” and takes form in over 100 different types. It's caused by the breakdown of cartilage, a condition known as arthrosis; Cartilage works to protect the joint by providing a cushiony, shock-absorbent layer around it. However, when cartilage begins to erode, the pressure placed on the joint that would otherwise be protected causes the bones to rub together, and allows for pain, inflammation and stiffness.
While autoimmune diseases and bacterial and viral infections are listed as common prompters of arthritis, joint wear-and-tear is just as probable. In fact, arthritis is "usually activity-related,” as affirmed on encyclopedia.com; so although there is genetic predisposition to arthritis, a condition that leaves a majority of the population over 65 years of age with symptoms, how you use your hands today will have a bearing on how your hands operate tomorrow.
Carpal tunnel syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome may be less common, but is known to be even more painful.
“Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when a combination of health conditions and activities puts pressure on the median nerve as it passes through the carpal tunnel in your wrist. This pressure leads to tingling, numbness, pain, and/or weakness in parts of your hand and, sometimes, up into your arm,” (WebMD).
But what are these activities that lead to pain? Repeated hand and wrist movements: “Work that requires forceful or repetitive hand movements, hand-arm vibration or working for long periods in the same or in awkward positions-especially when combined with other health conditions-may cause carpal tunnel syndrome.”
Give your hands a break
So the next time you’re tweeting on your smart phone, playing Beethoven’s 5th Symphony on your baby grand piano, or…typing an article, remember that the more you overuse your hands for nonsense, the less you’ll be able to use them for importance. So take a step back from unnecessary tasks and stop exercising your hands so much! It will give you time to focus on other muscles that really need the extra strengthening!
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