Sometimes it can feel like kitchens are not built for people with arthritis pain. Bending, lifting, gripping, chopping, peeling, stirring, pouring — the many motions involved in meal prep and cooking can take a toll on stiff, sore joints. Fortunately, there are plenty of easy and affordable ways to create an arthritis-friendly kitchen that takes at least some of the pain out of prepping healthy, anti-inflammatory meals, which may help ease arthritis symptoms.
Your first step, says Preston Lockwood, OTD, OTR/L, CHT, occupational therapist at Hospital for Special Surgery, is to think about the four Ps:
As you think about ways to reorganize your kitchen to make it friendlier for your arthritis symptoms, ask yourself:
- What tasks need to be done right now or regularly?
- Are there any supplies that can make these tasks easier?
- Can I break up the tasks or prep meals when I’m least fatigued?
- How can I modify my grasp and preserve my smaller joints?
- Is it easier to sit or stand while cooking and cleaning?
Although cooking can certainly feel like a chore while you’re dealing with the pain and fatigue of arthritis, there are ways to take the pressure off your joints and add the fun back into meal prepping for you and your family.
From rearranging your go-to tools to investing in utensils with modified handles to spreading tasks throughout the day, here’s what experts recommended prioritizing to create a safe and arthritis-friendly kitchen.
Let the appliance do the work
There are many affordable cooking aids and easy-to-use devices to help make your kitchen more arthritis-friendly. A few recommendations from our experts include:
- Bread slicer increases leverage while cutting.
- Blenders or standing mixers eliminate the need to stir, which can put a lot of pressure on your hand and wrist joints.
- Cheese grater with suction cup prevents the grater from moving and reduces the force needed to hold down the tool.
- Electric can-opener prevents the painful twisting of the wrist involved when opening a can.
- Electric knife eliminates hand carving, which can put pressure on arthritic hands and wrists.
- Food processor eliminates chopping, which is tough on hands with arthritis.
- Rocking knife allows you to cut by simply rocking the knife back and forth, which puts less pressure on your hands and wrists.
- Wide-grip utensils make it easier to hold with a looser, less painful grip.
Do some rearranging
It may sound obvious, but you’ll want to put your go-to kitchen tools — things like your everyday spices, pots, and pans, and cooking utensils — in an area that doesn’t require bending down low or reaching up high. If adjustable kitchen shelves or a lazy Susan are not an option, don’t hesitate to utilize your counter space, says Karen Jacobs, OT, EdD, OTR, CPE, FAOT, occupational therapist and Clinical Professor of Occupational Therapy at Boston University. Worried about counter clutter? Arrange items in a decorative tray or container to keep them contained and organized.
Pick lightweight pots
If you’re in the market for new cookware, Preston recommends purchasing lightweight pots and pans with two handles versus one. This way, the weight is more evenly distributed across your joints as you lift and carry the cookware.
Yet even with the lightest pot, you’ll likely have trouble lifting heavy pots of, say, pasta in boiling water. Preston’s trick: Slide pot off the stove and onto a dish towel, so you can push it (instead of carrying it) to the sink. Then, use some tongs to move the pasta into the colander so it can drain, rather than trying to lift and pour it. Leave the water to dump once it’s cooled down or ask a family member to help.
Increase the diameter of your kitchen tools
The tighter you have to hold a utensil, the more range of motion you require from your joints. For people with limited range of motion, pushing joints to the limit can cause inflammation and pain.
Fortunately, a 2016 study in the journal PeerJ found that adaptive utensils with modified handles of increased diameters can reduce challenges and protect joint integrity for people with limited range of motion of the hand joints. There are plenty of available kitchen tools sold today with wide, lighter handles for better grip, but you don’t have to always buy a new set of utensils.
Instead, you can purchase some foam grip tubing to slip onto existing tools. Or consider Preston’s completely free hack: Take a washcloth and wrap it around the handle of the tool to increase the diameter by ¼ inch or so. “By increasing the diameter, you’re easing the pressure and offloading the tension across the joint space,” he says.
Purchase precut and pre-peeled food
“Any time you can cut out an entire step and save your joints, it’s always a good idea,” says Preston. That said, precut and pre-peeled produce are more expensive, so you’ll want to budget accordingly. If you can’t afford to buy everything precut or pre-peeled, prioritize the fruits and vegetables you eat the most often or that give you the most trouble to cut or peel.
Also, it may pay to simply ask for help. You can ask the butcher to cut up your meat and they will most likely do it free of charge.
Say yes to soaking
There is no shame in keeping those hard-to-scrub pots in the sink to soak overnight to reduce some of the impact on your joints. For some added assistance, Preston suggests putting a little baking soda into the water to help loosen stuck-on food. You’ll also want to invest in some heavy-duty scouring pads for a more intense scrub that requires less effort from you.
Preston says that many of his clients have a hard time popping open the little knob on their dish soap. Not to mention the bottles can be heavy at times. Although you can leave the knob open, a better (and less messy) solution is to transfer the detergent to a container with a pump dispenser. This way, says Preston, you’re using your palm and force from the shoulder and arm instead of your tiny finger joints.
Spices, which often have hard-to-open lids, can also lend themselves to a simple container swap, adds Jacobs. Consider containers that have a push-in latch, as that requires less dexterity.
Secure your objects
Opening a jar when you have arthritis is tough enough on the small joints without having to worry about it slipping out of your hand. To keep that from happening, Jacobs says you should place a non-slip material — like Dycem, a shelf liner, or rubber dish drying mat — in your sink or on your countertop to secure the object so there’s more friction and less force applied to your joints.
You can also invest in a mounted jar opener that rotates and pops it open for you, suggests Preston.
Making standing more comfortable
Being on your feet for long periods while cooking is not ideal for people with arthritis in the hips or back. An anti-fatigue mat can help reduce stress on your joints and help support balance and posture, according to a study published in the journal Human Factors.
If you tend to lean on the counter while chopping or doing dishes, you may also consider lining the edge with an installation noodle. “You can find it at most hardware stores with different size diameters,” Jacob says. “Cut it so it opens up and place it on the sides of counters to provide more comfort when you lean.”
But the most important thing is to listen to and respect your body, adds Preston. “If you’re experiencing pain in your joints, sit down and take a break.”
Conserve your energy
Taking note of when you feel the most fatigued can help you better plan and prepare meals, says Jacobs. For example, if you have more energy at night, use that time to prep breakfast and lunch for the next day.
Similarly, if you’re having a good fatigue day, prep a few meals to freeze for the week. “This way, at the end of the day, you just have to pick something out of the freezer and microwave it,” says Jacobs.
Make cooking a family affair
Cooking doesn’t have to be a chore or a burden on you alone; it can be a fun activity to bring the family together, says Jacobs, who suggests putting on some music and divvying up tasks among loved ones.
“Think about how you can cook in a way that’s meaningful to you. Look for nutritious, easy-to-follow recipes that are not demanding,” says Jacobs. “The occupation of cooking has a lot more meaning than just that meal prep; it’s being part of a family, living with a chronic illness, and making sure that you can still do the things that you love.”
Participate in Arthritis Research — From Your Smartphone
If you are diagnosed with arthritis or another musculoskeletal condition, we encourage you to participate in future studies by joining CreakyJoints’ patient research registry, ArthritisPower. ArthritisPower is the first-ever patient-led, patient-centered research registry for joint, bone, and inflammatory skin conditions. Learn more and sign up here.
Interview with Karen Jacobs, OT, EdD, OTR, CPE, FAOT, occupational therapist and clinical professor of occupational therapy at Boston University
Interview with Preston Lockwood, OTD, OTR/L, CHT, occupational therapist at HSS
McDonald SS, et al. Effectiveness of adaptive silverware on range of motion of the hand. PeerJ. February 15, 2016. doi: https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.1667.
Wiggermann N, et al. Effects of Anti-Fatigue Mats on Perceived Discomfort and Weight-Shifting During Prolonged Standing. Human Factors. November 27, 2012. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/0018720812466672.