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Reclaim the Kitchen: Pain-Reducing Arthritis Life Hacks

Living Well

February 16, 2022

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adamkaz/Getty Images

adamkaz/Getty Images

by Cheryl Crow


Fact Checked by:

Jennifer Chesak, MSJ


by Cheryl Crow


Fact Checked by:

Jennifer Chesak, MSJ


The kitchen can be a place of great happiness and camaraderie, especially during birthdays, holidays, and other special occasions.

However, when you live with hand pain from arthritis, the kitchen can quickly change from a place of joy to a source of stress.

As an occupational therapist who has lived with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) for almost 2 decades, I’ve learned many life hacks and workaround strategies to reduce pain, protect tender joints, and minimize fatigue in the kitchen.

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Choose from two main strategies

You really have two choices any time you’re trying to make life easier while cooking when you have arthritis:

  1. Change the object you’re using. For example, you can use an electric can opener rather than a manual one, which saves your joints from excess strain and potentially pain.
  2. Change your approach and work differently. For example, you can hold your knife with a different angle to avoid excess strain to the base of the thumb joint. You could also call ahead for grocery delivery rather than visiting the store and loading groceries by yourself.

Most likely, you’ll end up blending the two approaches. I find it important to draw attention to the second approach, because many people get so excited about purchasing new kitchen gadgets that they forget the possibility of modifying their approach, which can save time and money.

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Set up your kitchen for success

You’ll likely find it helpful to take a step back and think about how you’re storing and using existing items in your kitchen. It’s possible to make small changes that can lead to great improvements over time in your joint pain and strain.

One of my best tips is to place the items you use most frequently in the “hot zone” between your shoulders and hips. This prevents excessive bending down and reaching overhead. I also find it helpful to store heavy items, like mixers and other countertop appliances, in that “hot zone.”

When it comes to heavier, bulky items, like flour or oil, I like to divide them into smaller lightweight containers to save my joints from unnecessary strain.

If you’re making home improvements or moving, consider the design of the handles and drawer pulls. I find that drawers with longer, wider handles are easier to open than ones that have a narrow handle, because they distribute the force across a larger area.

For cabinet knobs, wider knobs are generally easier to grasp and use than short, skinny ones.

You’ll also find that there’s large variation in types of larger appliances, like refrigerators. I find it helpful to try them out in person before buying, so I can ensure they’re as easy to open and close as possible.

Similar to the kitchen drawer pulls, I find long refrigerator handles that stick out to be much easier on my joints than smaller hidden ones.

Consider investing in opening aids

Have you ever had a moment of frustration when trying to open a stubborn jar or can in the kitchen? You’re not alone. Many people with arthritis find it helpful to use opening aids.

Here are the main categories of opening aids:

  • electronic wireless can openers
  • electric wireless jar openers
  • electric plug-in can openers
  • under-the-counter mounted can and jar openers
  • handheld long handled opening aids (some have multiple sizing options in one)
  • a square of Dycem, shelf liner, or other anti-slip material that can be placed on top of a jar to provide additional friction and make them easier to open

I end up using my long-handled opening aid and my electric can openers most frequently, but the best solution for you depends on your patterns of joint pain and the types of containers you open most often.

Another way to make it easier to open items when you have arthritis is by seeking out objects that are easier to open in the first place. When it comes to food storage containers, I prefer designs that are lightweight and easy to open and close.

I find it helpful to use a pair of kitchen scissors for assistance with opening difficult items such as bags of chips, frozen food items and more. I also cut the tops of frozen bags that have zippered locks at the top. I replace them with chip clips, which I find are easier to open and close.

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Make it easier to chop and slice

Cutting vegetables and fruits can quickly lead to increased pain and stiffness. Consider these alternatives:

  • Sharpen your knives. Sharp knives require less force and thus lead to less joint strain.
  • Try adaptive knives. Rocker knives and handle knives can take the stress off your hands.
  • Use chopping aids. You can try something like the “Chop wizard” which allows you to use the larger joints of your shoulder and back to chop, rather than your small finger joints. You may also prefer an electric chopping aid, like a food processor.
  • Switch hands. You might find it helpful to switch hands while chopping to give your dominant hand a rest break.
  • Switch up your grasp. Play around with alternative ways to grasp and hold onto your knives to take the strain off your pointer finger and thumb. For example, you can stabilize a knife between your pointer and middle finger rather than the thumb and pointer finger. This helps spread your knuckles out, which can be particularly helpful for people with RA, as RA tends to affect the knuckle joints more than other finger joints.

Select arthritis-friendly kitchen tools

Generally speaking, people with all forms of arthritis tend to find wider grip objects easier to use than skinny ones. However, if the object is too wide, it can become more difficult to grasp, so it’s worth considering what width is right for your needs.

If you’d like to modify your existing items to create a wide grip, you can purchase inexpensive foam tubing, which is commonly used by occupational therapists to create a wider handle for items, like forks, spoons, and butter knives.

Another thing to consider is the weight of your most frequently used items. For me, this includes plates, bowls, cups, mugs, and travel coffee mugs.

In general, I purchase the most lightweight, yet sturdy items. I also consider the overall design to ensure it’s easy to pick up, put down, and clean.

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Try grocery delivery service

Sometimes, the best solution is to simply work around the problem. I like to use grocery delivery services rather than going to the grocery store in person. This saves me time as well as energy, which is important, because I live with an inflammatory form of arthritis that can also cause fatigue.

While these services are more accessible in cities, many major grocery chains and retailers have started to offer delivery and curbside pick-up options due to COVID-19.

Delegating is another quick way to save time and joint pain in the kitchen. Now that my 7-year-old son is old enough to help in the kitchen, I’ve enjoyed delegating some simpler tasks to him. This helps me reduce pain and helps him develop life skills.

Adapt and grow

There are many ways to prevent and work around joint pain and fatigue in the kitchen.

When people think about kitchen life hacks they often jump to purchasing opening aids, but there are many more small changes you can make that will make a big difference in your quality of life.

These suggestions are adaptable and should be altered based on your needs. Remember, reducing pain is not one size fits all. With a few tweaks, hopefully you can reclaim comfort and joy in your kitchen.

Fact checked on February 16, 2022

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About the author

Cheryl Crow

Cheryl Crow is an occupational therapist who’s lived with rheumatoid arthritis for 19 years. In 2019, Cheryl started Arthritis Life to help others thrive despite arthritis. She facilitates online courses and support groups to help people adjust to their conditions and live full and meaningful lives. Most days you can find Cheryl creating life hack videos, sharing patient stories on the Arthritis Life Podcast, or spreading the word about acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT).

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