Rheumatoid Arthritis Hand – Safe Handshake
A Rheumatoid Arthritis hand is a painful hand
During those first few months with full-blown Rheumatoid Arthritis, hand joints were not my concern. I had no idea what was in store. No one told me that RA always gets your hands …eventually.
No one needs to tell you how bad RA hurts if you have Rheumatoid Arthritis. Hands become extremely tender and fragile. Joints are loosened and easily pulled out of place.
Handshakes with an RA hand
When you have RA, handshakes become a dreaded affair. I’ve heard so many stories about “Ouch!” in the fingers and offended friends. On a recent post, I mentioned handshakes at church and someone commented about hiding in the bathroom! …The worst part is that I can relate to that.
Once, right after RA finally did take hold of my hands, I had a horrendous experience on a Sunday morning. A 94 year old man caught me off guard. He smiled and squeezed my fingers extremely hard. They crushed together under the pressure.
A couple of years ago, I decided to take matters into my own hands, pardon the pun. I decided that an assertive handshake that protected my fragile fingers would demonstrate that even though my hands are impaired, I’m still friendly. So, I started using my homemade handshake seen in these photos and video below.
Description of RA handshake
You have to be a little forward. Smile and move toward the person with both of your hands out. With your right hand, reach out about 3 inches farther and a little lower than you would for a traditional handshake. Gently grasp their wrist and palm and make a little shake motion up and down. Let go quickly before they know what hit them.
You can either end there or proceed to the second step. If you want to make a warm impression, take your left hand and briefly clasp the other side of their hand or touch their arm.
I love to watch the different reactions. Most of the time, they are positive. Also, it leaves no opportunity for someone to insist that my RA hands handshake in the conventional way. I just do what I can do. It just is what it is. It is a warm and friendly greeting …from a Rheumatoid Arthritis hand.
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63 thoughts on “Rheumatoid Arthritis Hand – Safe Handshake”
hands cause this prob.n this thing can make others hurt also.that happened wid me.my classmates hands are so strong or wat..her touch used to hurt my hands a lot.when she used to cme n shake hand i used to say hey dnt hurt me….n one day everybody was there n even i dint say anything she said k i wont…..lol……i said sorry to her bt now she do it slowly..n my idea to shake hand……..well i do it with my finger ……a little cute hand shake….but its protective for me…lol…
Hi Rachael, that’s cute – as long as your finger doesn’t mind. :chic:
Thanks Kelly for posting this…Kenyans shake hands, A LOT! and its considered extremely rude to not do so…obviously i’ve been is several not very nice situations where people call me proud for simply saying verbal hellos. A weak handshake is considered more rude than none at all..
also due to the lupus, i seem to catch a cold everytime i shake many hands especially during social gatherings….I still don’t know what to do..so i’ve resorted to avoiding the beginning and end of events when handshakes are most likely to happen…
True. The germ issue is another problem. One person posted on Facebook that she wears a paper mask to protect from germs & people just don’t try to shake her hands now. Haha. :pill:
Kelly: I never thought about the mask theory, better believe I’ll be wearing them to Church from now on! :doctor: LOL…Thanks for the awesome article! GOD’S BLESSINGS TO ALL! :rose:
Depending on the situation and people involved and which joints hurt worse, I’ll just give a gentle hug. Thanks Kelly for the handshake idea. I think this would also work very well in so many settings.
Hi Julie, O:-)
I’ve done it many times with total strangers upon first meeting and it worked great. Only once I had a problem because my wrists were also so tender. And my shoulder was too bad to reach forward enough to make it work right. I works best when you can take the initiative.
Sadly even when I say I have arthrtis people like to test to see if it is true or flat out refuse to believe me and so give extra hard handshakes.
I avoid them all now. I don’t care if it is rude considered rude. If I have already explained it causes physical damage to do then than a hard handshake is an assault. And one that I get to pay for for the rest of my life. Not them.
Sadly my worset damage is in my wrists, there are bones literally worn to less than half their size and my ulnar sits on top of my wrist. There is no handshake in the world I can do that I can go too.
Who still really believes a firm handshake is important? It shows nothng other than that you can shke hands hard. I used to be able to. I’m actually a much stronger person now mentally than I was when I could pull your arm off 😉
Your such a blessing Kelly.. really you truely are
That is so nice. That will keep me smiling all day. 😎
Ironically, my most memorable RA handshake experience is with my first Rheumatologist (actually second, but I liked him way too much to put him in second spot). Once during my medical review I got extremely upset and started telling him how I had constant pain in my wrists n fingers…so much so that I could not even hold a pen. After pouring my heart out to him and receiving requisite counselling when I got up to leave, he grabbed my hand and wish me luck for my studies..and my response was..well..I screeched!!
I still vividly remember oh-so-cute expressions on his face, followed by a million ‘I am so sorry’.
I love that story. Thanks. O:-)
Shortly after I was diagnosed, a woman shook my hand hard, then criticized me for having a weak handshake. I think the subtext was her attitude about women being pastors; she wanted to cut me down and that was her opportunity. I realized how much a good handshake meant to me and how hampering it would be not to have one anymore. This year I’m working in a much larger church (I’m an Intentional Interim Minister), and on Christmas Eve, I must have shaken 500 hands, at the very least. It’s become clear that if I’m going to shake a lot of hands, I can’t expect to use my hands for anything else that day.
I like your suggestion and will try it!
I love meeting people, but I think that after about 20 of those 500 handshakes, I’d be ready for the emergency room!
I have decided only to shake hands when the other person offers. I used to always offer my hand but these days do a smile, acknowledge, nod.
I think that some people just squeeze way to hard and it is painful and disconcerting when some peson (often a complete stranger) causes this to happen.
That’s a tough one for me. I cannot trust a stranger with my fragile hand. I don’t want to appear rude, but it will hurt for hours if I let them squeeze it.
At one point I found a fingerless compression glove was helping my bad right hand, and hoped it would signal to people that they might need to think about what this would say about going for a handshake. But it turned out that people were “reading” it as a Michael Jackson tribute!
If you have any friends or relatives taking college business courses, there is often one professor who is teaching basic business etiquette. It would be useful to direct them to this blog entry and video.
Hi Carol! I made a comment further up about wearing gloves and wrist braces to Church without it helping. Now I keep my hands in the pockets of a lightweight jacket or sweater so as to avoid any chance of a handshake! It works quite well if I do say so myself, and I do! LOL…I’ve also began sitting around all the folks that know my condition and give me gentle hugs from habit. In HIS Love, Alice :rose:
Maybe not Michael Jackson, maybe a pro golfer. :chic: Haha.
a trick I learned years ago is that I put out my LEFT hand. I slightly put my fingers into their open hand and tighten slightly and let go. It throws them off so much, your hand is outta there before they think of squeezing it!
If someone REALLY looks at me odd, I may say, “I gave rheumatoid arthritis. I’m not much of a hand shaker” but I don’t explain very often.
No, I am not the queen and don’t expect them to kiss it. I grab it back too soon.
Ironically, last week I offered my left hand to someone and realized that it was the first time in since I’d had my 4 knuckles replaced in Nov. I did that. It was my son’s karate instructor who had seen my huge outrigger splint, so he knew I had RA. But I offered my left, then thought twice and went to offer my right (very deformed, tendon ready to rupture on wrist), but grabbed it back, and then offered my left again. We both started laughing and I said, “I don’t know which hand is safer to shake with these days!” He laughed too. Maybe next time he will just bow to me 🙂
I think its great!
It needs to be a concious effort on the part of the RA sufferer
but it’ll work, and eliminate that gosh-awful thing called pain. THEN the other person will ask why…and tell ’em!
Thanks, Joe. Yeah, it’s about protecting ourselves from harm, but awareness would be good too.
I have been trying to figure out what to do about hand-shaking for a long time! Back when I was younger it was considered rude for a man to offer his hand first…in other words if the woman didn’t offer her hand, there was no handshake. But that’s certainly no longer true….so I tend to just wait out the awkward moment of someone sticking out their hand and me pretending not to see it. BUT its AMAZING how long some people will stand there with their hand extended! It goes beyond awkward! lol Then I’m forced to say, ‘I have RA so don’t shake, but its a pleasure to meetcha’. Just on a side note….my dad(87 yrs old) tells people I have “bad bones”. So cute! I have a biker t-shirt with a skull and crossbones and it says “BAD BONES”. cool. LOL
Hey Cindy, It’s funny imagining someone standing there like that with their hand out in your t-shirt – I have some skeleton t-shirts – I’ll see if bad bones will fit in somewhere. 😀
Wow, as newly diagnosed the handshake tip is good, but my wrists get swollen too! As does my elbow, yikes! My thing I’m grappling with is my 9 year old who I have taught to hold my hand in the parking lot, or crowds. This is hard, because during a flare, he can forget in his excitement to hold my hand that ouch. I have to say “looser dear.” But is heartbreaking. Any suggestions? By the way, love your website : )
Yes, you’d have to be very light & quick about it to protect the wrists if they are also tender. I have the same issue with my almost 5 yr old. We have to keep adjusting our handshake & I’m always telling him: please don’t hurt momma’s fingers. If your 9 yr old is tall enough, maybe he could just hold onto your arm instead when it’s needed for his safety. How long have you been diagnosed, Beth?
I’m a Pastor’s wife and have long-established RA. I’m expected to shake just about everyone’s hand after church and we live in Asia where this is seen as a courtesy and not to be rejected. This idea of how to shake hands so it doesn’t hurt my hands is great! Up until now I usually stand with my hands behind my back and nod with a smile – or pray like mad when I must shake a hand.
Thanks for the great idea!
Dear Frances, Ironically, church can be a very painful place with RA. There’s kneeling, trying to carry a plate at a buffet, or getting up and down on cue! From heavy doors and hard pews to the dreaded handshake! I find with many I can give a quick loose hug instead. But others who don’t know me well do expect a handshake. I’m glad you like mine.
Do the people know you are sick with RA? Maybe having your name added to the list of those to be prayed for would help them to realize?
How about the hand/fist bump?! The one Howie Madel does? (germ a phobic) But I like your handshake much warmer than the finger shake I do…talking about church how do you sit on the hard pews for a hour? I just had to leave last Sunday I hurt so bad…I was so mad that RA had stolen my time at church…. :teeth:
I have had to leave at times from pain or sit very still and quiet (my way of dealing w/ severe pain). It’s not easy. :no: I think I could stand it longer if people weren’t so much expecting me to act like I’m fine. Does that make sense?
In response to Pamela – I was so thankful when our previous church changed all the seating to soft seating! However, now I’m in a church with hard pews, I simply get up and act as if I’m going to the loo and have a walk! We now have the service beamed into the Hall, so if need be I can walk around in the Fellowship Hall and not miss the service. Or one can sit near the back and if there’s room, you can get up and walk a little around the back of the Church.Also, don’t feel bad if you have to sit down during a long period of singing. I’m the Pastor’s wife, and once I started doing this, it kind of ‘gave permission’ to several other folk either with joint pains or older people, to do the same and they were very grateful.
I like to give “elbow love”. Instead of shaking hands when expected, I hold out my forearm and say “gimme some elbow love, my hand hurts”.
Haha. Makes me think of “Elbow Room” on Schoolhouse Rock video. :musicnote: ♫ ♪
sorry, forgot to say that I and the other party touch our forearms together to say hello.
I kinda figured that. 😀
This is a fantastic post!
As a recently diagnosed RA-er (so recently that I still have three months to wait before my first rheumy appointment) this has been a hard thing for me to figure out.
How does one avoid a handshake when it only appears on the outside that they have a problem with their legs because they walk with a cane? Most people don’t know RA exists or that it can be a disease that affects your whole body at the same time (I’m still trying to convince my mother that my RA and her Osteo aren’t the same thing and no I don’t just “need to try harder”).
I will most definitely be adding the “wrist-shake” to my newly acquired bag of tricks to protect myself.
I’m sorry I don’t understand the cane / handshake question. I will say a wrist-shake has its dangers too (RA can make wrists very tender), but this was one way I’ve gotten thru it a lot of times.
Poor you. Months is too long to wait to begin treatment for definite RA in my opinion. Did your GP begin any treatment in the meantime? Or do you have a way to get on a cancellation list?
RA started in my hands pretty early and my wrists shortly thereafter, and basically I had to stop doing a lot of things I loved (jewellery making, cross stitching etc).
Shaking hands proved to be quite a nightmare. But I started wearing wrist splints to provide support and found it was a natural ‘softener’ of handshakes from other people. It often broke the ice too, because they’d ask “What did you do to your hands?” and I’d reply that I had RA and that made my hands a bit tender. Some people would ask politely what that was, and I’d have a little practiced speech about RA, then we’d move on or they’d get interested enough to ask more questions. It doesn’t always work, but at least it feels proactive.
Kelly, that’s brilliant, thanks for the tip, it’s so much nicer than freezing up and having to explain about the RA every time I meet someone. I’m constantly backing off when I see a handshake coming, which really doesn’t look good and appears very unfriendly. I can’t wait to try out my new RA handshake! Thanks so much.
I have found when shaking hands to keep my pointer finger extended, like im pointing past their wrist. im not sure why but it somehow it lessens the pressure. im a big guy and other guys like to squeeze my hand and this helps alot
Thanks, Vlad. I can see how that would help.
Kelly, I love this handshake and am glad you posted the video. I have practiced on my hubby a few times so it will be automatic. I am not afraid to shake hands anymore.Thank you:)
I do it so automatically that I did it recently to a new dr & he seemed to reciprocate.
However, I tried this handshake with another woman who’s RA didn’t let her fingers straighten out at all, and it bothered her, I think. In that case, the problem was that I couldn’t look down first to notice how her hand was. So if we can notice that someone else has a disability too, I think just a gentle pat on the hand would be a good substitute.
Here in France there are various ‘handshakes’ especially around the more rural areas and these are nothing to do with RA!
A normal handshake, clasping the wrist or even offering the elbow! this is normal if someone has messy hands and still want to follow formalities.
I love this handshake – it is such an easy way to avoid the pain and not look anti-social. Come to think of it, I realize now that I myself have done this very handshake, instinctively, on particularly bad days!
This is what I do nowadays i used to dread shaking hands.
I always give my left hand, because it is not as tender as the right. But there is one gentleman at church who squeezes way too tight. I will think about how to implement your suggestion, though the moving forward first part will be difficult, as I don’t stand during Greeting time — greeting time is over before I’m out of my seat! Thank you for your continued service to the RA community! God bless and Merry Christmas!
I have a modified handshake too that works great! My wrists get tender, and especially that joint on the base of my thumb so I changed my handshake in the other direction. When someone puts their hand out, I quickly grab their fingers right at that middle knuckle and shake normally. It’s so handy because your holding their fingers so their thumb cant reach your hand and their fingers cant squeeze, and it all just comes off as a simple miscalculation of the size/distance of their hand. I’ve had a 100% success and it makes me feel so sneaky.
I have the joy of going to a teaching hospital for my care LOL each time I am examined by a new student the first thing they want to do is shake hands. I have started just holding my hand up and reminding them what clinic they are working in.
That is brilliant!
I invented my own handshake. I put my hand out cupped knuckles up and grasp their hand softly. It works! After too many accidental crushes i came up with this solution. It also makes a less “germy” contact which i am conscious of since being on orencia and other biologics.
I empathize with your hand shaking at church.I attend church too & have had my sore RA fingers hurt by hand shaking. Instead of shaking hands which hurts my fingers,I do the fist bump & explain that my fingers are sore.I also wear gloves which helps me to keep my hands more germ free which is important with an autoimmune disease.
My already-affected right hand was crushed badly in a handshake and I sat almost crying in pain for the next 2 hours but later it faded from my mind. Fast forward 8 months… visiting my consultant who was shocked at the deterioration in the ulnar deviation of my fingers on that hand. “How long has it been getting like this?” “About 8 months.” 《Ping! Light bulb moment!》Too late to sue the solicitor who ’caused’ the damage… 2 months later I had MCP joint replacements in all 4 fingers. That was 2 years ago and now I don’t shake hands with anyone… I always say “Nice to meet you; sorry, I don’t shake hands… too painful!” Sometimes people ask why so I explain but normally they don’t bother.
THANKS so much for this blog… it’s really great for sharing ideas and hearing how others cope… very empowering.
Thank you very much for a great alternative! Now I don’t have to explain every time why I don’t want to shake hands.
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Thanks for these Ideas Kelly. I will certainly practice this on Sunday. There is one elderly gentleman in my church who insists on enveloping me in a bone crushing hug…oblivious to my cries of pain. And there are many other hand crushers as well. With one of my friends, I banned them from hugs. Now he opens his arms wide and I HUG HIM instead…and he keeps his arms wipe open. That has worked pretty well.
If your still communicating would love to find. I was diagnosed just a year ago.
I’m new to mixed connective tissue disease, which leans toward RA, therefore I’m being treated for both.
I am finding this website so helpful. The “handshake” article is a very creative way to be polite and deal with this painful situation. I often go to business events and tradeshows. To avoid the thousands of handshakes that occur, I purchased an inexpensive wrist splint at the store. People automatically avoid a handshake or do it very gently.
Thank you for posting this! Fun lly enough, a church this morning is what sent me on a search for a way to handshake that doesn’t hurt! I didn’t think about my sore hand before shaking a fellow parishioner’s hand and then had to explain no, I hadn’t hurt it! (I was embarrassed because I should have avoided the whole thing but just didn’t think.) Thanks for sharing what has worked for you.
I have tried the fist bump! they look at me like what the heck you are to old to be cool! lol. I do forget sometimes. But get reminded very quickly Ow!!
This is so clever! I have endured painful handshakes for almost 15 years now. I just recently started nodding and saying, “I’m sorry, my hands are in a lot of pain” when someone tries to shake hands. Usually the response is very positive, and the other person gets a quizzical look and begins to ask questions. I used to hate answering questions about RD–I had to live it and didn’t want to talk about it–but now I look at it as an opportunity to educate. I’m looking forward to trying this. Thanks for sharing.