Hand Stiffness in the Morning

Waking up with stiff fingers can be a PAIN – literally!

January 3, 2017

If you have trouble doing the things you need to do first thing in the morning – getting dressed, preparing a meal, or driving, you may want to consult with your primary care doctor to identify specific reasons for the stiffness. Some possible reasons are arthritis (there are over 100 types that can affect the joints), nerve problems (such as carpal tunnel), previous injury (broken or dislocated fingers in the past), repetitive use (typing or using machinery for long periods of time). Medications, surgery, dietary modifications, supplements, and environmental modifications are some options to consider for treatment. But, if the more serious problems can be eliminated, maybe you just need to MOVE to get those fingers feeling more limber! Therapists routinely suggest using heat (think good warm shower) to wake up the fingers. Another favorite of ours is therapy putty.  Every therapist stays well stocked with different strengths of the putty. However, if you are not currently working with a Hand Therapist, you can make your own using regular household items.

How to Make Thera putty

You will need:

8 ounces white glue
1 cup water
½ cup warm water
1 teaspoon borax
Food coloring

Mix white glue and 1 cup water in a medium bowl with a plastic spoon. Don’t worry if it does not mix completely.
Add food coloring.
Mix ½ cup warm water and 1 teaspoon borax in a SEPARATE bowl. Mix with a plastic spoon until the borax is dissolved.
Slowly pour the borax mixture into the glue mixture. Combine the two mixtures by hand.

If the putty feels too strong, add more water. Keep the putty in a plastic container with a lid on it to keep it fresh and malleable. 

Some exercises you can do with the putty include:

Aim to do the exercises at least once a day for 5-10 minutes. None of the exercises should hurt. Remember, the goal is to make your fingers feel more flexible so that you have less trouble using the fingers in the morning!  If your symptoms worsen, stop or modify the exercises to reduce the strain on the hands. Do the exercises slowly to reduce strain on the joints. If pain and stiffness continue or become more of a problem, consult with your physician.

  Jennifer Durham, M.Ed, OTR/L,CHT

  Jennifer joined Hayes Hand Center in 1992 and is the Clinical  Coordinator at Hayes Hand Center Hand Therapy Department.

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