Arthritis in any form can be disabling, but when it affects the hands it can be crippling.

Arthritis is common and is the leading cause of disability in the UK.

The most painful and limiting type is rheumatoid arthritis, which can deform the hands so much so that daily life is severely curtailed.

With a few adjustments, it’s still possible to lead an active life.

Arthritis needn’t restrict what you want to do and enjoy.

The first step is to see your doctor and ask if an occupational therapist can visit you in your home to assess what you can and can’t do and what help you need.

Occupational therapists are trained to help people with all kinds of disabilities to get the most out of life with the least discomfort.

One of the first things an occupational therapist will help you do is redesign your life.

Together you can decide what things are most important to you and then make small changes that will help ease your pain, tiredness and stiffness.

Even with severe arthritis, it’s important to keep to some kind of exercise regime.

Your occupational therapist will help you with this and bring in a physiotherapist who will keep you moving.

Stiffened joints must be kept mobile.

If not, muscles around the joints will shorten and weaken, resulting in even more pain and stiffness.

Your physio can design an exercise programme that teaches you how to load your joints appropriately and will keep your muscles strong so that they can support your joints.

At home, don’t struggle with anything tight or stiff.

There are devices available that will turn knobs and screw caps. So don’t struggle to open a jar or can to the point of exhaustion.

There’s no need to stand for long periods either.

There are tools and stools that can make most tasks easier.

Be canny about buying food. Most supermarkets have food that’s washed, sliced, diced, shredded or chopped.

If you must do it yourself, get a food processor, a tabletop mixer or a mandolin. Prepare foods in batches and freeze portions for later.

For storage, install pull-out shelves at a comfortable level and place hooks around the kitchen on which to hang your favourite tools.

And get someone to transfer products that come in heavy packs into smaller, manageable containers.

Change your heavy glass containers for lightweight plastic ones. Invest in a slow cooker and break up onerous tasks into small, manageable chores.

Dear Dr Miriam,

For 12 years I have suffered from restless legs.

I have been told there’s no cure but I went to the doctor and he gave me pramipexole tablets, which are no good.

I’m getting desperate.

For 12 years I haven’t slept for longer than six hours and it’s making me ill.

Dr Miriam says:

Some doctors don’t believe in Ekbom syndrome, restless legs, which causes a burning sensation in the legs and feet that may be relieved by moving them, sometimes continuously.

It’s mainly found in elderly women and some studies have suggested a link with anxiety, depression and stress.

The unpleasant creeping, prickling or burning sensation can begin soon after sitting or lying down but usually comes on in the evening and at night-time, causing disruption to sleep.

As yet, there’s no cure for restless legs, but some people have found regular exercise, swimming, cool showers, yoga and relaxation exercises helpful.

It’s wise to avoid standing or sitting for long periods, catnaps during the day and heavy meals before bedtime.

For details and to get in touch with the support group at www.rls-uk.org.

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