Setting up, grilling, time on your feet—it’s enough to make you shy away from hosting a cookout altogether. But it doesn’t have to be so exhausting! We asked certified hand therapist Debbie Amini, EdD, OTR/L, CHT, from the department of occupational therapy at East Carolina University in Greenville, NC, for tips to help your party go smoothly. Here’s how to sidestep joint pain and fatigue while enjoying everything a barbecue has to offer—food, friends and fun!
- Think shortcuts. “Buy preformed hamburgers and precut chicken parts to decrease the need to form loose meat or butcher chickens,” explains Dr. Amini. “Buy smaller or precut steaks to reduce the weight when grilling, premade salads to reduce chopping and condiments in smaller bottles for less weight and easier-to-hold packaging.”
- Hold your plate like this. Dr. Amini advises using both hands with your palms turned up, fingers straight under the plate, with thumbs securing the edges. “The wrong position could put undue stress on delicate hand joints.”
- Save steps while grilling. Conserve your energy by putting your tools, ingredients and tableware onto a rolling cart so you can avoid making trips back and forth to the kitchen. “But keep it manageable with consideration to where the cart needs to go,” cautions Dr. Amini. “If you have to move items over a door jam or up or down steps, you may consider placing items in a box, a lightweight baking pan or a stiff shopping basket that can be carried.”
- Get joint-friendly tools. “Use strainers that can be secured in a sink so that two hands can be used to strain water from pasta if you’re making pasta salad,” says Dr. Amini. If hand pain makes it hard to use a cutting knife, try a smaller, more manageable one like a 6-inch chef’s knife with a light, plastic handle. You can make a thick, comfortable grip for any utensil by wrapping the handle with a dishcloth and rubber band.
- Make cleanup a breeze. “Select paper products that aren’t flimsy and don’t absorb liquid,” suggests Dr. Amini. “And if possible, choose plates that have a cup holder so that all items can be carried at the same time.” Or use a plastic tablecloth and just bundle up all the corners after guests leave to toss disposable dinnerware in one shot.
- Adjust your handshake. Grab your guest’s hand with both of yours. “A two-handed handshake is less stressful than a regular handshake, where there is potential for a well-meaning friend to move your hand too vigorously or squeeze too hard,” says Dr. Amini.
- Try this phrase while mingling. “Why don’t we go sit down?” Most people will welcome the suggestion to take a load off. Then look for a comfortable, high seat—climbing out of a low-lying chair can strain your knees and hips!
- Tap their cooking skills. Don’t be shy about asking guests to bring their signature dish, especially salads or side dishes that involve a lot of chopping (it’ll save your hands and wrists!). They’ll be flattered when you say, “I love your [cole slaw, potato salad, etc.]. Would you mind making it for the party?”
- Play joint-friendly games. “Have a variety of outdoor games that don’t require a lot of stressful or repetitive movement—for example, croquet is much easier on the joints than badminton, volleyball or horseshoes,” explains Dr. Amini.
- Break out the portable radio. What’s a barbecue without some good tunes? In a study done at the Cleveland Clinic that included folks with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and disk problems, listening to music reduced pain by more than 20%. The best part? The type of music didn’t matter—so you’ll enjoy the benefits even if somebody changes the station!
- Set an end time. “That way, guests recognize when it’s time to leave,” says Dr. Amini. “And that will ensure you don’t overtax your energy reserves!”
Don’t forget to wear...
- Comfy shoes. “Arthritis can create deformities in the feet, so they require attention and support,” says Dr. Amini. “Shoes should be supportive, lightweight and weather-appropriate as much as possible.” Avoid flimsy sandals or flip-flops. Instead, try a “sports” sandal with good arch support. And if it’s raining or the grass is wet, wear slip-on sneakers.
- Sunscreen. This is especially important if you take medications that can cause photosensitivity (check with your doctor or pharmacist). “Methotrexate and hydroxychloroquine, for example, can cause severe skin reactions to the sun,” says rheumatologist Richard Blau, MD, who practices at the Arthritis Institute of Long Island in New York.