Have an aching pain in your thumb that won’t go away? Experiencing inflammation and soreness when you grip something for too long? With so many aches and pains that can occur in the body with age, it’s easy for your hands to go under the radar when it comes to monitoring your health. Each hand has 27 bones a piece and as the most dexterous part of the body, hands are responsible for almost everything you do. It’s a common fear that hand pain may signal a loss of your tactile abilities.
What Happens to the Hand as You Age?
Just as the rest of your body feels the effects of getting older, there are several changes in hand functionality that start to occur over the age of 65:
- Loss in bone density
- Reduced grip and pinch strength
- Changes in dexterity and tone
- Deterioration in muscles, nerves, joints, tendons, and even fingernails
- Decreased blood flow to hands
- Changes in skin
Many hand-related problems are not simply a consequence of aging but, rather, are symptoms associated with an ongoing age-related disease or ailment like Parkinson’s, osteoporosis, or arthritis. Decades of heavy labor that involved hand-use like lifting boxes for many years, injuring a hand in a factory accident, or working with handheld instruments on construction sites can also lead to expedited degeneration of vital connective tissues and bones in the hand.
How Should You Treat Hand Ailments?
Even though there are a variety of ways to treat the pain associated with hand injuries and age-related deterioration, chronic hand pain should always be discussed with a medical doctor. They can administer tests, x-rays and examinations required for a comprehensive diagnosis or recommend you to a specialist who can help. Individualized treatment plans might include:
Topical Ointments – Analgesic creams, rubs, and sprays are considered the over-the-counter options for topical pain relief of sore joints and tendons in the hands – everything from Icy Hot to Arnicare. Those types of topical treatments contain ingredients like menthol, capsaicin, and camphor which create burning and cooling sensations to alter your perception of pain. Topical NSAIDS can be recommended by your doctor as well and rubbed on joints to relieve arthritis pain in the hand.
Braces and Splints – Wraps, braces, and splints can we worn on the hand, wrist, and arm to stabilize the structure of the hand and limit movement that may stress already inflamed joints. Thumb spica splints, for example, protect the hand from further injury to aid with painful sprains, carpal tunnel or arthritis. Additional braces might cover the entire hand like an open fingered arthritis glove, or stabilize more of the wrist area. You can find helpful braces and splints in most big box stores, online, or at your local pharmacy.
Hot and Cold Packs – Patterned application of heat and ice can help alleviate hand pain in the short-term along with rest. Remember to always apply heat or ice packs with a barrier (like a towel) in between it and your skin. Don’t use at the same time as you have applied a topical treatment. And talk with your doctor about applying cold/ice if you already have poor blood circulation as ice packs can exacerbate that problem.
Medical Intervention – Your healthcare provider may decide that pharmacological or surgical intervention is required to address your hand problems and pain. While much less frequent than the alternatives mentioned above, depending on your medical situation, these may be options discussed with your doctor.
What Else Should You Know?
In addition to the aforementioned age-related degradation of the hand, it is important to be aware of other potential causes for decline in hand health. In the elderly especially, hormonal changes, general decrease in use, and malnutrition can also play a part in weakening the functionality of the hand. Continued exercise and a healthy diet helps seniors maintain bone and muscle strength, as well as manual dexterity and mental stamina to keep your hands moving in the first place.
The human hand is the exemplary evolutionary appendage that makes day to day living possible. It is also one of the first lines of contact you have with your world when it comes to touch. Practicing fine motor skills with your hands like picking up small objects with your fingers, crafting Origami, or knitting, for example, is vital to retaining strong mental health and combatting memory loss and dementia too. The health of your hands influence the health of the rest of your body – as you age, make sure to take care and prepare!
Jessica Hegg is the content manager at ViveHealth.com. Interested in all things related to living a healthy lifestyle she works to share valuable information aimed at overcoming obstacles and improving the quality of life for others.