The holidays are fast approaching, so chances are you’ll be spending more time in the kitchen preparing and entertaining. Turkeys will be basted, potatoes will be peeled and cut, and Grandma’s favorite cookie recipes will be baked. As with any project, it’s important to practice safety first so everyone remains in the holiday spirit and out of the emergency room. To help keep your holiday season free from hand and upper extremity injuries, The American Society of Hand Therapists (ASHT) offers these simple tips to protect your hands and to help prevent injuries 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 oversize handles (rather than narrow/standard); this will allow you to get the job done without requiring a tight grip and pinch.
- Sit or stand up 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 arm pain. During activities which 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, do not lift – Do not lift heavy pots and pans – slide them off burners and onto hot pads along the counter whenever possible to help alleviate shoulder strain. When working in the oven, always slide the shelf out so you can get a good, safe grasp of the panhandles. 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 hand surgery and rehabilitation. Instead, clean knives individually with soap and water and rinse immediately to avoid hand injuries.
- 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, which in turn will alleviate upper arm pain.
- 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 especially if you have osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. Before you open any jar or bottle, turn it upside down and tap the bottom lightly against the counter-top 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, burn, or injured finger, hand, or arm.
Stretch – Note: These exercises should never be painful when completing them. You should only feel a gentle stretch. Should you experience pain, please consult a hand therapist or physician.
- Perform simple hand and arm stretches to improve flexibility as well as reduce the possibility of stress or strain in your upper extremities.
- Begin by bringing your arms to your side for a brief shake, just to relieve some tension.
- Then perform a “prayer stretch” by placing your palms together with your fingertips pointing towards the ceiling and stretching downward until a stretch is felt on the underside of your forearms.
- Next straighten out your elbows in front of you and make a GENTLE fist as you bend your wrists down. Continue until a stretch is felt on the back side of your forearms.
- Finally, make a tight fist and then straighten your fingers, spreading them apart as much as you can.
- Hold each position for a count of three, and then repeat three to four times.
- Just prior to resuming your cooking project, also perform about 5 slow shoulder rolls, emphasizing rolling away from your ears.
The American Society of Hand Therapists is a not-for-profit organization seeking to advance the specialty of hand therapy through communication, education, research and the establishment of clinical standards.
At Hand to Shoulder Center of Wisconsin, our therapy team is comprised of 20 on-site occupational and physical therapists. Many of whom are Certified Hand Therapists. For more information or to make an appointment with our team of dedicated physicians and therapists alike, contact our office at (920) 730-8833 or toll free at (888) 383-3039.