Give Yourself A High-Five: A Guide to Healthy Hands

Your hands do a lot of things. You scroll your phone with your faithful fingers, move that cursor on your laptop, applaud with your hands, use them to wave at friends, and maybe press them together in prayer or gratitude.

Is it time to give your hands a helping hand? You probably pedicure your toes, massage your legs, bronze your shoulders, and do a dozen or more things to your one and only face. But what have you done for your hard-working hands lately?

First, how much do you know about your hand’s anatomy?  It’s pretty complex, consisting of 27 bones, 27 joints, 34 muscles, over 100 ligaments, and tendons, numerous blood vessels, nerves, and soft tissue! The bone surface area near the joint covered with cartilage makes it possible for bones to move smoothly while a fibrous capsule lined with a thin membrane called synovium encloses each joint and secretes fluid, which lubricates the joints.  And then there are the ligaments – a form of connective tissue which supports and links bones. Tendons are another form of connective tissue uniting muscles to bones, which in turn allows muscles to move bones.  When arthritis strikes the hand, it usually affects this orchestration in some way.  In fact, as many as 4 in 10 of us may develop osteoarthritis at some point in life reports the CDC. More than likely this process begins in the finger joints.

All that real estate below your wrist calls for care and proactive protection. It pays off.  Twenty percent of all injuries to our hands happen on the job and similarly, 25% of all sports injuries involve the hand. There are more than a million hand injuries treated medically each year and even more go untreated or treated at home. “Injury” means sprains, broken fingers, torn ligaments, pulled muscles, bruised palms, sliced tendons, and crushed nerves, says the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgery

Here’s how to prevent trauma and injury (and maybe arthritis) and show your wrists, fingers, knuckles, and even the forearm) a little well-deserved TLC.


  • Never cut an avocado or apple by holding it in your hand. Stabilize it on a cutting board and keep your fingers out of the path of the knife.
  • Always use a sharp knife which is easier to control than a dull one. And work slowly.
  • Don’t hold the head of the nail while hammering it. Use needle nose pliers to avoid accidents.
  • Never put your hands out to break a fall, Try to roll to your arm and shoulder instead. This can prevent wrist fracture.
  • Wear gloves that are the right size (over-sized ones fall off or can get caught in machinery) and gloves that are appropriate to the sport or job (chemical and cut-resistant gloves .if necessary)
  • Put on wrist guards for sports like roller-skating/ice skating and hockey


These easy workouts done daily can increase the mobility of your joints, loosen tight muscles and tendons.  Why does it matter? Because everyday functional fitness calls for opening jars, twisting bottle tops, lifting and carrying heavy household items like chairs and ladders and furniture. You need good grip strength to go through the motions safely and painlessly.

Do the exercises below 10 x each, (ideally) twice a day. Remember to do both hands. Note: Pain (or numbness) is a red flag. And if a joint is already compromised in some way, do no more harm. Consult a medical professional or physical therapist first.  And always work slowly.

1) Place forearm on a table (padding with a folded towel if needed) with hand suspended down. Move the hand up and down from the wrist to feel the stretch. Then turn the palm up and repeat.

2)  Place your elbow against your side. Rotate the forearm to the side with the palm facing up. Hold. Then turn palm down. Bring your arm in and repeat.

3). Place the forearm on the table, with the thumb facing up. Lift the wrist up and down, keeping the rest of the arm anchored.

4). Extend arm with fingers straight. Make a light fist, then open and fan the fingers open.  Close and repeat.

5) With the side of the hand on the table, make a loose fist; bend the hand inward toward the wrist and hold. Repeat.


It’s not just how your hands work and feel, but how they look. To you and the rest of the world. Here’s how to improve on that.

  • Clean hands: Yes, it takes more than 6 seconds to get your hands clean and germ-free. The CDC recommends 20 seconds of soap and water scrubbing. (Go ahead, make funny faces or sing a song to distract yourself). And remember to completely dry them. When hands are still damp, infections spread easily. And lukewarm water beats hot, which can strip your hands of important moisture.  Use a gentle soap that is not alcohol-based and does not alter the PH of your skin. And avoid hand sanitizers where possible. Because of their high alcohol content, they are very dehydrating for both the skin and the nails.
  • Moisturize: After every bout of hand washing, protect the hands. Oil-rich creams with a minimum of chemical-sounding ingredients will do the trick for most of us, keeping moisture in and the environment out. Look for Shea butter, ceramides, omega 3, 6, and 9 oils, hyaluronic acid, cocoa butter, and glycerin. Especially important if you are older, when more oil-producing glands in the skin are lost.
  • Cuticle care: Stop cutting them, period. The cuticle is the root of your nail bed.  All you need is some cuticle cream and a little gentle push back.
  • Sunscreen: You need to protect your hands from the sun the same way you protect your face.  That means a good sunscreen of at least 30 SPF that you apply even when it is just a ten-minute drive to the dog park or a 10-minute walk around the block. Sun exposure is potentially cancer-causing and definitely aging. Look for hand creams and lotions that also have sunscreen built in.
  • Night time cover-up: Do what hand models do. Apply an overnight hand mask or a nighttime repair cream and slip on cotton overnight gloves for even softer morning-after hands.


2 Tablespoons Shea butter or cocoa butter

1 tsp. vitamin E oil

2 tsp. aloe vera liquid

2 tsp. olive or grapeseed oil

2 tsp. arrowroot powder

A few drops of Aromatherapy (essential) oils such as lavender, chamomile, or vanilla

Whip the butter with a hand mixer until light. Add vitamin E and olive/grapeseed oil, blend well, then add arrowroot powder, a quarter teaspoon at a time. Last, whip in the aloe vera. Finally, blend in essential oils, if used. Store in a small glass container. No need for refrigeration if used in a week.

-Frances Goulart

Photo by Sharefaith (

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