Maybe you’ve noticed opening jars is suddenly a real challenge, or maybe getting dressed in the morning – and fumbling with all of those buttons and zippers – is a bigger task than it used to be. If you’re a dog owner, you might notice a problem holding on to your pup’s leash. If any of these symptoms sound familiar, rest assured that you’re not alone: Declining hand and grip strength is something many adults will encounter over time.
But if you’re one of the millions of Americans dealing with this health issue, it may be best to consult with a physician or an occupational or physical therapist to find out exactly what’s causing your troubles, says Carrie DeLuca, a senior occupational therapist and certified hand therapist with the Tidelands Health Hand Therapy Center in Myrtle Beach.
That’s because, while some cases of grip weakness are the result of natural aging, others can be indicative of larger, more serious health problems.
“Having a weak grip can be an indication of many things, including arthritis, a pinched nerve or a nerve injury, among other conditions,” says DeLuca. “Assessing grip strength, along with the patient’s’ medical history and other presenting symptoms, can tell us a great deal about the person’s overall health.“
As DeLuca notes, the causes of hand weakness are numerous, and range from the fairly common and innocuous to the downright serious. Along with natural aging, a weak grip can also result from acute injuries such as broken bones, sprains or burns. But in other cases – especially in those instances of grip weakness that seem to occur suddenly – the causes can be much more severe. Among the conditions that are linked to grip weakness include the following:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Multiple sclerosis
- Nerve damage
- Heart problems
If you experience sudden weakness and are concerned it could be a sign of a stroke or other emergency, make sure to seek immediate medical attention, DeLuca says. However, if it’s not an emergency, consider consulting with a physician or an occupational or physical therapist.
“Having a weak grip is not necessarily an emergent situation unless it comes on quickly,” DeLuca says. “Gradual decline in grip strength is something to be monitored, and if it begins to affect your daily functioning and ability to complete tasks during the day, then you may want to see your physician or an occupational or physical therapist for help.”
Many patients suffering from hand weakness can help their cause through daily exercises that can keep their hand, wrist and arm muscles engaged and active, she says. Squeezing special hand-therapy putty or therapy balls, completing hand and wrist stretches and other simple activities can help keep your grip strong and your days active.