Handle Hands With Care

What other body part can hammer a nail, steer a car, thread a
needle and dry a tear? Knowing that we rely on our hands for all of
these things and more, why do we continually abuse them?
What other body part can hammer a nail, steer a car, thread a needle and dry a tear? Knowing that we rely on our hands for all of these things and more, why do we continually abuse them? From using the perfectly wrong tool for a task to holding food while slicing toward ourselves, most of us have done foolhardy things with our hands, thinking nothing will happen to us.

But emergency room doctors and hand surgeons know differently, and they treat the results of our folly. I have seen a “bagel-cutting injury” result in a severed thumb tendon, requiring surgery and weeks of immobilization and rehab. The injured woman lamented, “I cut bagels all the time. Why didn’t anyone tell me this could happen?”

I’m telling you now: Be good to your hands! They’re the only two you’ve got. I implore you to treat them with the reverence and care they deserve.

My recommendations are the same as mom probably gave you when you were a kid. Keep your hands inside the car. Cut with the knife blade away from you. This advice goes along with not running with scissors, but my message has a different twist: Use the scissors only when they are the correct tool to use, and use the right scissors for the job. This message holds true for any tool, including your hands, when you are tempted to use one of them inappropriately as a power tool.

A pair of scissors is not, for instance, the right tool for cutting open a heavy box. For this you need a cutter with a good handle and blade. And always retract the blade as soon as the cut is complete.

Similarly, the heel of your hand is not a mallet for smacking a stapler or walloping a lug wrench. Press the stapler down, leaning on it with your body weight. If you staple a lot, consider an electric stapler. For the lug wrench, use leverage or controlled body weight rather than percussive force.

Try ergonomically designed tools for kitchen, garden and workshop that prevent and ease strain to your hands. These tools are now becoming common in regular stores, even your neighborhood grocery chain and department store. Spring-loaded cutters and scissors enable you to cut with a simple squeeze.

Utensils with large-diameter rubberized handles ease grip force and improve control. And remember those flat rubber jar openers your grandmother used? They’re not only great for opening water bottles and pickle jars. You can also place one under your cutting board or plate to prevent slipping, or use it to secure your grip on a screwdriver or other tool.

We use our hands constantly and with great versatility. We rely on them for nearly everything we do. Using them is great; abusing them is not. Use your hands carefully, selecting the proper tools for the task and avoiding excessive force and repetition. You’ll then be better able to continue doing those things you want to do: count your change, tie your shoes, send an e-mail or paint a masterpiece.

Nancy M. Lowe is a certified ergonomist, registered physical therapist and certified hand therapist with more than 20 years of experience treating and preventing injuries in the South Bay. She is dedicated to working with individuals and organizations to create healthy and productive work environments. Contact her at (408) 778-0629 or [email protected]

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