Gail McGonigal B.Sc.O.T., M.Sc.Health

Is living life comfortable for you? Or does performing routine daily tasks result in pain or discomfort in your hands? It happened to me several years ago, when I began feeling pain in the base of my thumb joints when performing normal everyday tasks.

I have always been a very fit and active person, riding my bicycle everywhere and just getting on with my daily life. But life took a serious nose-dive into virtual inactivity, when the discomfort in both basal thumb joints became steadily worse that even just drinking a mug of coffee became a nightmare in pain! In other words, severe discomfort strangled hold of my routine daily life and virtually stopped me from “living” in a way that I could live my life on my own terms.

My initial response was to visit my GP, who disappointingly was not much help. The X-Rays informed him I had only “minor degenerative changes” of osteoarthritis in both basal thumb joints? Minor degenerative changes! My rhetorical response to this casual remark indicated that I was not impressed with his translation of my severe pain! To me it was unbearable! How could I function in such a state? Could it get any worse? How was I to obtain any relief, if every movement hurt? I wanted him to remove the pain and let me get on with my usual daily life. His only answer was painkillers and anti-inflammatory medications, which were of little value for erasing the pain. The pain was so intrusive in my life, that I became compelled to investigate my own methods of relief, for bringing comfort back into my daily life.

Unfortunately I paid the price for my active lifestyle, through wearing out my thumb joints through recreational cycling on drop handlebars when I was a child. Also arthritis is genetically mapped into my family tree with my grandmother having suffered rheumatoid arthritis and my mother now enduring osteoarthritis in many of her joints. It seemed inevitable that arthritis would affect me, but I somehow hoped its’ significance would be less troublesome with my active lifestyle.

However, I forgot to consider the stress that impacted my thumbs, when balancing my body weight down through the web spaces between both thumb and fingers when recreational cycling. It never occurred to me at the time that such pressure would translate in to so much grief in the future. Had I been able to foresee the future and understand the damage that the position was impacting on my thumb joints, I would have immediately changed to an upright bicycle frame.

I don’t think changing the frame would have prevented the arthritis, but would have been easier to tolerate. Now I truly empathize with my arthritic patients that I treated, when working as an Occupational Therapist in my earlier years of employment. I never realized just how bad arthritic pain can impact on our daily lives. It is a wake-up call that pain needs to be respected, because it informs us that something is very wrong and that our body requires attention, in order to protect the joint damage from getting worse.

I am thankful for my professional knowledge as an Occupational Therapist, because I have had the opportunity to analyze the pain in much more depth; to work within it and foster methods of control. The control comes through understanding the ergonomics of human movement and redesigning daily living products into more ergonomic type products that meet our lifestyle needs for comfort and safety in functional performance.

In addition to using ergonomic products, there are also many natural pain relieving remedies available that are none-evasive, but very effective in helping to reduce pain, and restore sufficient functional mobility in our joints, for gaining more active performance. I personally have found the use of glucosomine sulphate with chondroitin one of the most powerful pain relievers, as well as the regular use of fish oils in my diet.

It is important for you to listen to the advice from other pain sufferers, as well as a homeopath, your GP, pharmacist, plus other experts in pain relief / management; then gradually experiment yourself, to find out what helps to relieve the intensity of your discomfort. Everyone has different methods of coping with pain or discomfort, so it is up to you to discover the most suitable therapeutic measure for your own body. A combination of pain relievers and the use of ergonomic appliances will create a functionally safer and much easier lifestyle.

Does this mean making an appointment to see an Occupational Therapist, or Physiotherapist for advice? If you are restricted in performing normal functional activities with ease, then I would suggest asking your doctor to make a referral to see an Occupational Therapist, or Physiotherapist. They will help to resolve your functional performance issues, but their focus is not on comfort, merely restoring functional mobility.

Creating comfort in your lifestyle is a positive approach to maintain active and productive living. This is a personal goal that you need to create for yourself, as everyone feels discomfort differently. I am not meaning to be sexist, but women have a greater capacity for feeling discomfort than men, simply because most of their tasks have smaller hand coordinated involvement. They also have a higher threshold for feeling pain, so they are more aware of its intensity. You could say that women have more expertise in understanding comfort!

To create comfort in our body, muscles must always be in a relaxed repose. Impossible you say! How can we do things in life, if we do not ‘use’ our muscles? You are right. We need a range of muscular tensions and relaxed poses, in order to sustain a balance for manipulating our body safely in daily living. We do have an internal mechanism designed to protect and restore balance to most of our body; but it has does have limitations in protecting our skeletal muscles and joints. This is left up to us to define and regulate ourselves. We do not always achieve it, mainly because we don’t understand how to manage it ourselves.

We perform functional activities, according to how our body is able to complete the task. Our body only informs us when there is a problem in our joints, such as a pain, an ache, pins and needles, or numbness. It does not inform us about any subsequent negative or adverse effects on our skeletal joints, when repeating an activity daily. Look what the cycling did to my thumb joints? It is because we cannot read into the future that we need to anticipate joint stress and prevent injuries before they occur. This means analyzing the effects of stress, before the damage actually occurs.

From my perspective as a trained Occupational Therapist, ergonomics is the study of factor design related to the human engineering of functional performance activities in daily living. My own professional knowledge designs the correct functional positioning of skeletal joints for comfort, when performing daily living activities. The aim is to sustain our functional joints with minimum tension and maximum relaxation, for the purpose of reducing joint stress-induced gripping, restoring comfort and safety. By using ergonomically designed daily living products, we feel assured that are skeletal joints are safely supported and protected, using correct functional positions for the rest of our lives.

Current daily living products available on the market today are not designed to meet our comfort needs in daily life. They are designed to be functional and aesthetically pleasing, but do not service our comfort needs. For this reason, I am redesigning functional items that I consider to be stress-inducing, because they place too much strain on the dynamic joints of our hands. A good example is holding a mug handle. I have found no mug handle suits my need for comfort. As a result, I have designed a mug handle for a mug, that suits not just my own need for comfort, but everyone's needs also, including men.

By creating an ergonomic design, I have devised a formula for comfortable living in daily living products called a “relaxed hold”. The formula develops a combination of relaxed dynamic muscles, combined with supportive muscular strength of intrinsic muscles in the fingers, with relaxation of the thumb. It is a formula that generates the protection, comfort and safety we need in “holding” a mug handle safely, rather than “gripping” it tightly, wasting valuable energy in creating stability.

The “relaxed hold” is the beginning of my comfortable designs for safety in daily living. My aim is to redesign many functional products that will protect skeletal joints from repeated stress, preserve muscular energy from unnecessary performance and promote overall performance safety as we live in daily living. The mission statement is the foundation for a life of comfort by using the ‘relaxed hold’ where people hold items instead of ‘gripping’ that causes so much discomfort or pain in many skeletal joints. It will also encourage people to think about how they perform functional activities and how better to perform them; that will reduce the pain and discomfort protect their lifestyle, through protecting their joints from potential injuries – an area called health promotion. In this way, you will learn how to add greater value to your quality of life, by focusing on your safety and well being,.

Author's Bio: 

I am a qualified Occupational Therapist with a Master's degree in Health Promotion. I also have very acute and painful osteoarthritis in both my thumb joints. I have retired from Occupational Therapy now and have decided to develop my ideas of creating a whole new niche market in comfortable ergonomic daily living products. I have a lot of ideas of how to create comfort in daily living products, because I do not believe that products today are designed for our comfort needs. They are merely aesthetically pleasing to our visual needs, but not our comfort needs.