Are your joints so sore you can’t put on clothes, stand in the shower or open doors or kitchen appliances? Arthritis can rob of you of the most basic everyday functions. But you don’t have to let the pain steal your freedom. We’ve gathered 10 handy tools and made it easy for you to find them. Plus, how much do you know about osteoarthritis? Take our quiz to find out…
In a recent New Yorker cartoon, a woman introduces her new love to a girlfriend: “This is Russell,” she says. “Russell opens all my jars.”
When you have joint pain, a Russell would be handy. Fortunately, there are physical tools that can ease almost any action, from getting in and out of a car to putting on clothes, says Doreen Stiskal, P.T., Ph.D., chair of the department of physical therapy at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J.
Talk to your doctor about "handy helpers" to get through the day. They may even be able to write you a prescription; some insurance companies cover them.
But first, read on for the top 10 physical aids to make living easy. (These are available at medical supply stores, big-box stores like Target and various websites. We’ve listed one source for each.)
1. Sock Aid
What it is: Place a sock over this trough-like plastic device, slip your foot in the now-open sock, and pull on cords attached to either side to slide the sock onto your foot without pain.
Why it helps: No leaning over or crossing your legs in order to warm your toes.
One to try: Deluxe Sock Aid, Kat Health Products
2. Zipper and Button Puller
What it is: A device Captain Hook would envy, this aid comes with an open hook and a closed wire loop, both attached to a large pull handle.
To button clothes, put the loop through a button hole, then around the button, and pull on the handle to guide button through the hole.
For zippers, insert the open hook into a zipper’s hole and pull.
Why it helps: Some joint diseases can cause a loss of finger strength or hand deformities, making fastening clothes a challenge.
Many clothes now come with Velcro fasteners, says Sandra Sessoms, M.D., a rheumatologist at the Methodist Hospital in Houston. But this aid allows you to wear clothes you already own.
One to try: Folding Zipper and Button Puller, Wellhaven
3. Jar Opener
What it is: If Russell doesn’t work out, there are many devices that pop those jar tops, from a round rubber no-slip disk to an electric opener.
With this model, the opener circles the lid and grips it firmly with stainless-steel teeth, allowing you to push on the long-stem handle end to open the jar.
Why it helps: The soft handle lets you push with your palm, rather than twisting, so there’s no tension on sore fingers.
“This takes pressure off the hand, and you don’t have to use your own strength to open the jar,” says physiatrist Benoy Benny, M.D., assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
One to try: Jar Opener, Good Grips
4. Reach Extender
What it is: This simple tool is nothing more than a long aluminum pole with a trigger handle at one end that controls a set of claws on the other end. See something you need on an upper shelf? Just reach up, pull the trigger to clamp it and lower it toward you.
Why it helps: “These can be used for anything from picking up objects to scratching your back to grabbing the remote control,” Benny says.
Models come in different lengths, with magnet tips or pronged finger-like extensions.
One to try: PikStikPro reacher, PikStik
5. Bath/Shower Bench
What it is: This handy bench-like chair has suction-cup tips on two legs to anchor it in your tub to prevent slipping. To get into the tub, just sit and carefully swing legs over the tub wall.
To get up, use the arm rest to grip and push against.
Why it helps: “Arthritis patients may not be strong enough to manage bathing or standing in a shower, so a bench is vital and much safer,” Sessoms says.
One to try: Transfer Bench, Medline
6. Elevated Toilet Seat
What it is: This toilet seat clamps on to your regular seat (so it won’t shift during use) and raises it by about 6 inches, making it easier on your joints.
“The ideal [for comfort and movement] is a 90-degree angle at your hips and knees,” Stiskal says.
Some, like this version, come with arms to hold on to for support, an extra feature that adds safety and ease.
Why it helps: Many contemporary toilets are low, and it’s difficult for some people to lower themselves onto one – or get back up.
A higher seat saves weakened, painful thigh muscles, hips and knees, according to Stiskal.
One to try: Locking Raised Toilet Seats, Medline
7. Doorknob Adapter
What it is: Picture a doughnut with a long handle. It fits over standard doorknobs, allowing you to open a door in various ways: by pushing on the long handle with your elbow or the side of your hand, or pulling up with the back of your hand.
Door openers for cars are also available.
Why it helps: If you have limited movement in your wrist or hand, this device lets you open doors without having to twist or turn a knob.
One to try: Leveron Handle Door Knob Adapters, Leveron
8. Car Slide
What it is: This aid has a swivel seat much like a Lazy Susan that makes it easier to swing legs in or out of a car. It also includes a handle bar that offers something to lean on or push off from.
Why it helps: When legs and back are aching, negotiating a car seat can feel like torture.
“You put this underneath you so you don’t have to fight against the friction of a cloth seat,” Stiskal says.
For a quicker fix that doesn’t cost a thing, try putting a large paper bag on the seat, Stiskal suggests. It can also ease sliding into a car.
One to try: Automobility Solution, The Wright Stuff
9. Pill Cap Opener
What it is: This device has ridges inside to grip the cap of a pill bottle, making it easier to push down and twist off the bottle cap.
It also works for medicine bottles and other twist-off bottle tops.
Why it helps: Childproof caps can defeat many adults – and if wrists and hands are sore, these tops are even harder to handle. This tool offers added leverage and a larger, more comfortable grip.
A simpler alternative: Ask your pharmacist for easy-to-open bottles. But be sure to keep them out of children’s reach.
“And we recommend that people get pill containers [labeled by days of the week] and put their medications in for a week at a time. Those are easy to pop open,” Stiskal says.
One to try: Pill Cap Openers, Aids for Arthritis
10. Easy-to-Grip Utensils
What it is: Cutlery handles fattened with rubber-like ridged material are more comfortable and easier to hold.
Why it helps: Eat pain-free when you set your table with this modern-looking set.
“The big problem for people with arthritis is that even if they can grip utensils, they’re limited in how long they can hold them,” Sessoms says. “These bigger utensils fit their hands better.”
One to try: Utensils Set, Good Grips
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