If you’re like most people, you have a few mismatched socks tucked away in the dusty corners of your dresser drawer. No need to toss them quite yet: A humble sock can benefit your joints in a number of ways.
Making slight adjustments to your everyday routine with objects that cost little to no money — such as mismatched socks — can have a big impact on your quality of life.
“Many of our daily tasks put our bodies in awkward positions that can cause damage to joints over time,” says occupational therapist Julie Dorsey, OTD, OTR/L, an associate professor of occupational therapy at Ithaca College in New York. “Certain modifications can make daily activities easier for those with arthritis.”
Of course, nothing replaces taking your prescribed medications and treatments, following your doctor’s advice for physical or occupational therapy, and regularly exercising. However, these sock “hacks” may make it easier to use your full range of motion or complete little tasks throughout the day — while being kind to your joints.
Transform a 100 percent cotton sock into a heating pad by filling it with rice and tying the end. Place it in the microwave next to a cup of water and heat for one to two minutes (keep a close eye on it to make sure it doesn’t burn). Be careful as you remove it, as it will be hot. Allow to cool to the desired temperature, and carefully test on your arm before applying to a larger area of skin.
You can cover the tied sock with a second sock to increase the thickness of your heating pad or add essential oil for fragrance and additional soothing benefits. Here are other ways you can try heat therapy at home.
“The nice thing about rice is that it creates a moist heat, which can be really comforting,” says Dorsey. “But it’s important to speak to your doctor for general guidelines before applying heat or ice treatment.”
While heat can be soothing for some people and ease stiffness, it can also do more harm than good, depending on your specific condition. For instance, heat may increase circulation and heighten inflammation in an affected area during a flare-up.
Slip an ice pack into a sock to buffer its coolness and make it more comfortable. Applying cold to an area of arthritis pain can decrease swelling and numb the area, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Use an ice pack for 20 minutes at a time.
“Some people might find that it helps to decrease inflammation and, in turn, stiffness,” says Dorsey. “But you want at least some type of barrier so that you’re not putting ice or an ice pack directly on the skin.”
Dorsey adds that it’s important to speak to your doctor for specific guidelines before starting ice treatment (as with heat treatment). Some arthritis patients may have circulation-related conditions that make them more sensitive to cold treatment, and those with altered sensation may not be able to tell if an ice pack is too cold (or a heating pad is too hot).
A sock can help you gently stretch and use your joint’s full range of motion, which is how much your joints can normally move in any given direction. You should try to move your joints gently through their full range of motion daily if you have arthritis, per UW Medicine.
A sock can help you do so without resistance, which may otherwise damage joints. Dorsey recommends placing your hand perpendicularly on a table, with your pinky against the table and your thumb toward the ceiling. Slip a flat sock beneath your hand, and practice full range of motion by using your wrist to move your hand left to right and back, like a windshield wiper.
“Practicing full range of motion is important for those with arthritis because it keeps the joints lubricated, increases blood flow, and prevents you from losing movement and range that you might not use as much during regular daily activities,” says Dorsey. You can also try these daily range-of-motion exercises.
If you’re working at home during COVID-19, you may find that you don’t have the same wrist support for typing as you did at the office. Fold a few socks and place them under your wrist as you use your keyboard. For a more long-term solution, you can fill a sock with polyester stuffing and sew it shut.
“Most computer keyboard set-ups encourage wrist extension, in which the hands are bent upward,” says Dorsey. “A wrist support raises the wrist to put it in a more neutral position, and also prevents the soft tissues and blood vessels from being compressed on the hard surface of the desk.” For those with arthritis, misaligned joints can worsen inflammation over time.
Instead of clenching your fingers around a dust cloth or feather duster, slip an old sock over your hand and make broad sweeping motions to clean bookshelves, window blinds, and more.
“It’s helpful if you can keep your hand in a neutral open position like that to wipe down surfaces,” says Dorsey. “When you don’t need to grip onto something, it relieves some of the work from the hand.”
You can also tie a sock around a slender handle on cleaning brushes, dusters, and other items to increase their width. This reduces the amount of grip strength needed, allowing you to use more strength on the task at hand — which is particularly helpful for those with decreased range of motion. Here are more household items that make cleaning less painful.
Drop a bar of soap into a sock and use it to lather up in the shower. This way, you can avoid dropping slippery soap and having to stoop down to pick it up.
“You could tie a really long tube sock with a loop at the end so you can slide it onto your hand,” says Dorsey. “That way, you don’t even have to grip the soap or sock.”
This hack also works for washing your hands outside, after you’ve worked in the garden or tool shed. The sock will help keep a bar of soap less grimy when you use it to wash dirt off.
If your favorite drink comes in a hard-to-open bottle (say, one with a crown bottle cap), keep a clean sock in the kitchen to help open it.
“Those bottles are hard to open in general, but they’re especially difficult if you have arthritis because they’re really narrow and pointy,” says Dorsey. “You don’t want to grip it too hard, so wrapping the sock around it could be helpful for building the width and twisting off the cap.”
You can also slip one hand into a sock that has grippers on the bottom. This will give you more traction on jars, bottles, and other containers you’re opening. See more helpful tips for opening jars with arthritis.
When paper clips, thumbtacks, coins, or nails scatter across the floor, slip a thin sock over a vacuum hose and secure it with a rubber band, gently tucking any excess material into the end of the hose. When you turn the vacuum on, the tiny items will stick to the sock — and you can avoid stooping down to pick them up one by one.
“Stooping puts your spine, hips, and low back into an extreme position of forward flexion,” says Dorsey. “That could cause damage to the muscles or joints as they stay in that static, awkward position, even if it’s just for a short period of time.”
What’s more, when you’re focused on a task, you may not realize how long you’ve been in a certain position for. By forgetting to pay attention to the pain signals your body sends, you put yourself at higher risk of injury.
Socks can be used to cover the feet of your furniture and avoid scratches on the floor. This can also help you slide chairs into position when you need to move them, rather than gripping and carrying them.
“Anytime you can push something, you’re using your body weight and less muscle strength,” says Dorsey. “Using socks under furniture can be useful if you needed to slide something for a relatively short distance.”
In general, it’s best to slide items rather than to lift them if you can, per the Mayo Clinic. Another example might be to slide an object across a counter or workbench instead of picking it up. If you do need to lift an object, carry it close to your chest and keep your elbows close to your body.
To practice using your full range of motion, put a hand on each end of a tube sock and raise your arms above your head, says Dorsey. Move your arms from side to side to gently stretch your shoulders and arms.
You can also hold the tube sock in front of you to practice controlling your movement. “Holding a tube sock in front of you gives visual feedback that both arms are being held at the same level,” says Dorsey. “These slow and controlled movements provide a gentle way to stretch the muscles and move the joints through the available range of motion.”
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