All that’s standing between your delicious dinner and a plate of plain, sad noodles is a jar of spaghetti sauce. On a good day, you’d simply open it and move on with your evening but a bad arthritis flare can turn a five-second movement into an excruciatingly painful chore. There are a lot of joints involved in opening a jar — it takes coordination among your hands, fingers, wrists, elbows, and shoulders — and pain or stiffness in any of them can make it feel impossible to open a jar or bottle, says Kelsey Zamoyski, a board-certified occupational therapist, hand therapist, and owner of Defy Therapy & Wellness in Miami, Florida.
Since bad days with arthritis can be hard to predict, it’s important to set up your environment for success in advance of a flare, says occupational therapist Brittany Ferri, MS, OTR/L, founder of Simplicity of Health. One way to do this is to know how to open jars, bottles, and cans without causing more pain and make sure you have the tools you need to do it.
Start with Correct Form
1. Hold jars close to your body
“Whenever you are opening a jar or any other item you want to make sure you’re holding it as close to your body as possible,” Ferri says. Having a firm stance will help prevent slips or drops. It allows you to engage more of your bigger muscles to help move the lid, rather than just relying on your hands and wrists, she explains.
2. Experiment with different holds
“Some people really like using a one-hand technique, by holding the jar close to their torso while securing it with the crease of their elbow and using their stronger hand to loosen the lid,” Ferri says. Using your whole arm to brace the jar gives you more strength and takes the pressure off your hands and fingers.
3. Use a non-slip surface
What’s underneath the jar is just as important as what you’re using on top of it. “Placing a non-slip surface under the jar when opening cans will help stabilize the jar, which increases comfort and safety,” says Christina Gagosian, OTR/L, an occupational therapist with The Hello Foundation. You can use a rubber dish drying mat, a silicone baking mat, or any other textured surface.
Get the Right Tools
4. Use a gripper made of Dycem
Dycem is a flexible, grippy material that is a staple used by OTs in treating patients with arthritis, Ferri says. She recommends this dycem cone gripper as it will improve your grip, prevent slips, and ease pain. The cone shape allows it to fit comfortably in your palm and open a wide variety of jars and bottles.
5. Try a contoured jar opener
Jar openers work by using “teeth” to hold on to the jar lid while the large handle makes it easier to twist the lid off. Gagosian recommends this contoured jar opener because it’s adjustable and comes with a grippy base to stabilize the jar.
6. Get a pop-up handle
If all you need is something a little bigger to hold on to, then Ferri recommends using a jar opener with a pop-up handle. These attach to almost any size lid and allow you to turn the handle instead of gripping the lid. Many offer folding or retractable handles for easier storage.
7. Install a mounted jar opener
For a quick and easy-to-use solution that can’t get lost in a drawer or eaten by the dishwasher, install an under-cabinet, mounted jar opener. You only need to use one hand; the cabinet does the work of stabilizing the jar and gripping the lid for you, says Lauryn Lax, OTR/L, NTP, doctor of occupational therapy.
8. Carry a pocket jar opener
Whether you’d like to have a portable jar opener or are just looking to streamline your kitchen, this 6-in-1 multi-opener is a great solution, says Helen Hampson, certified occupational therapist in the United Kingdom. This one tool allows you to open a variety of jars, cans, and bottles without hurting your hands. “I call it the ‘Swiss Army Knife of the kitchen’ because it addresses many of the problems that people complain about with hand conditions,” she says.
9. Buy an electric can/jar opener
Why stress yourself needlessly when there is technology that can help? An electric can opener can save stress on your joints and allow you to open jars or other containers more safely than by hand, Ferri says. Hampson recommends this one-touch automatic can opener because the large handle makes it easy to use and it stays on the jar with magnets so you don’t even have to hold it. For jars, try this fully automated jar opener.
10. Try a jar key
A big part of what makes opening jars tricky, as opposed to other types of packaging, is the vacuum seal, Hampson says. This jar key is a nifty little tool specifically for breaking the vacuum seal, allowing you to then open the jar with ease, she explains.
Use What’s Already in Your Kitchen
11. Wear rubber gloves
Another option to increase your grip strength while opening jars is to simply slip on a pair of rubber dishwashing or gardening gloves, Ferri says. Wear gloves on both hands — the one on your dominant hand will help you hold onto and turn the jar lid but the one on your other hand can make it a lot easier and safer to hold slippery jars.
12. Give it a firm tap
“One of my favorite tips is to tap the jar — right where the lid meets the jar — lightly but firmly on the counter,” Lax says. “This can help loosen the lid by releasing some pressure or sticky substances.” You can also tap the lid on the top or around the edges using a butter knife or rolling pin.
13. Try a rubber band
In a pinch and don’t have any special tools handy? A quick OT trick is to put a rubber band around the edge of the lid you’re trying to open, Lax says. It’s not as effective as, say, a gripper tool, but almost everyone can find a rubber band and it can give you just enough extra grip to open the jar with ease.
14. Wrap a towel around it
If you need a little nudge in a hurry, try reaching for a towel or washcloth. “You can create traction with a wet towel around the lid as you try to open it,” Lax says. The wetness helps keep the towel from slipping and provides a little extra grip, she explains.
15. Use hot water
Running jars under warm water can help to loosen some tight lids before trying to open them, Ferri says. This is especially true for products that have a high sugar content, like jams, jellies, and jarred fruit as the warm water can help dissolve crystalized or sticky sugar.
16. Choose different packaging
Many products these days come in a variety of packaging. For instance, you can find applesauce in a traditional jar but it also comes in pouches, boxes, and cups. These other types of packaging may be worth the extra cost if it makes it easier for you to open them, Ferri says.
17. Buy smaller products
A problem many people with arthritis have is that the jar is too big and/or too heavy to hold and open easily. Ferri recommends skipping bulk or family-sized products and instead picking smaller, easier-to-manage jars or bottles. For instance, instead of buying the giant jar of pickles, buy two smaller ones instead.
18. Look for thicker lids
Some lids are just easier to open than others. Thin metal ones are the most difficult, Ferri says. So if you’re choosing between two brands of spaghetti sauce and one has a thin metal lid and the other has a thick, ribbed plastic one, choose the plastic one, she says.
Stretch and Strengthen Your Hands
19. Train your grip strength
Increasing your grip strength can go a long way toward helping you open jars with more ease and less pain, Zamoyski says. We don’t often think of all the small muscles that make up our hands but they can be worked just like any other muscle. Using a grip strength trainer can help you target and strengthen the right muscles. You can use a squeeze model, like this grip strength trainer with rubber grips, or you can start smaller by using a squishy stress ball/hand strength trainer.
20. Stretch out your upper body
“Motion is lotion” is a popular adage in arthritis treatment for a good reason. Moving the joints helps keep them limber and reduces pain and stiffness over time, Zamoyski says. Starting when you wake up and then throughout the day, take 30 seconds to do some gentle stretches in your hands, wrists, and arms. This will help prevent them from stiffening up when you really need them to open a jar, she explains. Here are some good exercises for hand arthritis.
21. Do some targeted exercises
Stretching is great but you need to strengthen the muscles supporting those joints as well, Zamoyski says. Don’t worry, you don’t need a gym membership or fancy equipment. “I recommend doing a set of arm circles, shoulder squeezes, and bicep and triceps curls, every day,” she says. Check out these shoulder exercises that are arthritis-friendly.
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Interview with Brittany Ferri, MS, OTR/L, founder of Simplicity of Health
Interview with Christina Gagosian, OTR/L, occupational therapist with The Hello Foundation
Interview with Helen Hampson, certified occupational therapist in the United Kingdom
Interview with Kelsey Zamoyski, board-certified occupational therapist, hand therapist, and owner of Defy Therapy & Wellness in Miami, Florida
Interview with Lauryn Lax, OTR/L, NTP, doctor of occupational therapy