Cutlery for Arthritic Hands

Arthritis is any medical disorder that can affect any joint in the body. There are over 100 different types of arthritis, however people that have joint pain generally have one of three major forms:

  • Osteoarthritis – repeated mechanical stress over many years leading to the deterioration of joint cartilage and underlying bone
  • Rheumatoid arthritis – autoimmune disease where the body recognizes itself as a foreign, causing it to attack and damage itself
  • Gout – elevated blood uric acid levels resulting in an inflammatory response that produces sudden pain that mainly affects the great toes, ankles, knees, and elbows

Comparison of the Major Types of Arthritis:

OsteoarthritisRheumatoid ArthritisGouty Arthritis
Age of OnsetPrimarily older adultsMiddle ageOlder males and post-menopausal women
FeaturesRepeated mechanical joint stress accumulated over a period of yearsAutoimmune disorder where the body’s immune system attacks itself, leading to dysfunction of the joint capsule, bones, and cartilageElevated uric acid in the blood leading to crystal deposits in the joints, tendons and surrounding tissue, which can cause a gout attack
Speed of OnsetSlowest – Months to YearsSlower – Weeks to MonthsQuick – Hours
Hand deformityYes. Repeated joint trauma leads to development of calcified spurs on the  bone’s surface, and contributes to the following nodes on the hand:

Bouchard’s nodes –  bony outgrowths or gelatinous cysts that affect the middle joints of the fingers

Heberden’s node – hard bony lumps that located at the joints closest to the fingertips
Yes. Common to have hand deformities such as:

Ulnar deviation resulting in a sideways shift of the fingers towards the little finger

Swan neck deformity affecting finger positioning

Boutonniere deformity causing the fingers to be bent closed into the palm
Usually no hand involvement.

Primarily affects the great toes, ankles, knees, and elbows.

Arthritis is known to impair day to day functioning in approximately 20 million individuals in the United States. This makes arthritis one of the most common causes of disability and can limit one’s ability to use utensils when eating.

How Does Hand and Finger Arthritis Make Eating Difficult?

Individuals with hand and finger arthritis may experience pain and limited joint movement. This can contribute to difficulty with using eating utensils in the following ways:

  • Decreased grasping strength to hold utensils
  • Trouble rotating, turning and generally manipulating a fork, knife or spoon
  • Poor ability to continuously hold cutlery within context of joint restrictions
  • Severe pain with specific hand and finger positions related to joint stiffness

Adaptive Cutlery for Arthritic Hands and Fingers

Adaptive eating utensils can help people with arthritis feel less joint pain while eating, and give them a greater sense of dignity.

There are four common ways that forks, spoons and knives can be modified to help someone achieve greater independence with meal time:

  1. Enlarged handles – a large built up surface means there is more handle to grasp, which can make holding cutlery easier and less painful
  1. Angled or bent tips – having an angled tip for a fork, spoon or knife can reduce joint strain in those experiencing decreased range of motion due to pain or stiffness
  1. Arthritis utensil holders – an adaptive cuff connected to the hand or wrist can stabilize the utensil during eating for those with weaker grips fg
  1. Add on foam handles – a cushioned piece of foam can be inserted over top of the cutlery’s existing handle to make it easier to hold and manipulate