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By Dr. James Howenstine, MD.
February 12, 2009

Dr. Robert Markison of the surgical faculty of the University of San Francisco Medical School is an expert on repetitive strain and work related injuries of the hands. His primary attention for 30 years has been hand function. Gripping, pinching, twisting, pushing, painting, lifting, cutting, typing, sculpting, cooking, cleaning, brushing, eating and making music are a few of the many tasks performed by our hands. It is not surprising to learn that 25% of the space in the motor cortex of the brain, where physical actions of muscles are initiated, is assigned to the motor activities of the hands.

What happens to grip strength as we age? Men experience a steeper decline in hand strength after age 65 than women. At this age women lose about 2.4% of hand strength annually while men lose about 3% and can lose up to 3.4% annually. This loss of hand strength accelerates after age 80. Obviously we will lose our ability to perform daily activities as this hand strength disappears. According to Dr. Markison preserving hand strength is easily accomplished by squeezing a spongy “ stress ball” or rolling Chinese Baoding balls for 5 minutes daily in each hand. The Baoding balls help maintain dexterity as well as power in the forearm muscles and small muscles of the hand. Neither is expensive and both can be obtained online.

The Hand Brain Connection

An excellent reason for strengthening your hands is because of the relationship of the hands to brain function. Dr. Markison cites a 7 year study in men and women over 65 which revealed a significant correlation between loss of hand strength and loss of mental function. When we use our hands the hand portion of the motor cortex is kept involved in purposeful activity.

Dr. Markison has observed that health of hands and brain is promoted by becoming ambidextrous (learning to become equally proficient using both hands and sides of the body). He states that “Most persons live with a single sided upper limb dominance and that is a mistake. Cultivating ambidexterity essentially prolongs the warranty on your hands, so to speak, and helps you play with a full deck until the last day.”

The ideal program is to choose an activity that is creative. This could involve oil or water color painting with both hands, playing the piano, sculpting with both hands. “ The two handed approach vitalizes hand-brain neurochemical linkages.”relates Dr. Markison.


Bringing the arms into action appears to be even more beneficial. Arm motion is an excellent way to detoxify the body by facilitating the movement of lymph through the thoracic duct which runs along the spine. Arm movements may also benefit the heart according to cardiologist Dr. Stephen Sinatra. Dr. Sinatra’s 70 year old brother claims that “his memory appears to improve after fly fishing”. This activity uses both hands in a precise intense manner. Another activity with similar benefits could be imaginary conducting of an orchestra standing before your stereo. Orchestra conductors have less diseases and longevity according to Dr. Sinatra.

The Relationship Between Statin Drugs And The Hands

The statin drugs have an enormous number of significant side effects (transient global amnesia, confusion, memory loss, neuritis, liver disease, muscle pains with myoglobinuria causing kidney failure, heart failure, depletion of CoQ 10 etc.) some of which are not yet admitted by the pharmaceutical industry. Potentially the most serious may be the possibility that statin drugs can cause cancer. Dr. Thomas Newman and Dr. Stephen Hulley reported that most of the cholesterol lowering drugs on the market were known to cause cancer[1] in test animals at levels currently prescribed to hundreds of thousands of patients. Lymphomas [2] are clearly increased in users of statin drugs.

In his patients with heart disease Dr. Markison has found statin drugs to be a common cause of aches and pains in the hands. He relates that existing pains often become more severe with new symptoms including pain, numbness and tingling. Flareups of rotator cuff problems may relate to new prescriptions of statin drugs or a dosage increase. Minimal tendonitis can become worse after statin therapy. These problems can appear within a week or two of therapy onset and tend to become worse with time. If the statin problem is not recognized unnecessary surgery to correct problems may ensue. Dr. Sinatra has even identified eye muscle weakness resulting from statin drugs. Physicians may fail to recognize statin drug problems due to brain washing by the pharmaceutical industry, fear about speaking out, and failure to question patients about side effects.

Uncontrolled Blood Sugars And The Hands

Patients suffering from elevated blood sugars are vulnerable to developing neuritis in hands and feet (loss of feeling and strength), carpal tunnel syndrome (wrist pain caused by pressure on the median nerve by a fascial membrane) and “trigger finger” or “triggerthumb” in which a tendon gets blocked or trapped in a bent position.

Hypothyroidism And The Hands

Low thyroid function is commonly associated with joint pains and aching. 50 % of patients with untreated hypothyroidism have bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome. This is easy to understand as hypothyroidism traditionally has mucinous swelling in tissues throughout the body which could decrease the space for tendons to normally operate. A survey of Dr. Frank Shellenberger’s patients with axillary temperatures revealed that more than 90% were hypothyroid. Corrective therapy eliminated a multitude of life long unexplained symptoms. Flourides, bromides (bread), and chlorine are all contributing to iodine deficiency which causes hypothyroidism. Dr. Markison has learned that hand aching and pain is often not job related as it frequently originates from undiagnosed hypothyroidism. The thyroid gland is involved in regulating body temperature, function of muscles and skeleton, neurologic integrity, cognitive function, blood pressure control, and some tremors of the hand.

Osteoarthritis Of The Hands

Osteoarthritis affects the small important hand joints more than any other bones. The most common affected bone is the basal joint located at the base of the thumb above the wrist. This important bone permits the hand to rotate in countless directions. Hand function is closely tied to integrity of this joint. Osteoarthritis of the basal joint afflicts women more than men by a factor of 10 to 20 times. Squeezing and holding things, picking up the paper, typing a note, opening a jar and turning a key in a lock all involve this joint.

Osteoarthritis develops from hereditary factors and joint usage. Steady occurrence of microtraumas to the joints culminates in the bone deformities of osteoarthritis. Approximately 50% of 65 year olds have evidence of small joint arthritis. Some patients with minor evidence of arthritis have more pain than others who have more extensive degenerative deformities. Perhaps this relates to better hydration in those with less pain.

Glucosamine, chondroitin and methylsulfonylmethane(MSM) help most patients with osteoarthritis. Cucurmin and seaweed extract (ecklonia cava extract) appear even more effective to Dr. Markison. The daily doses are Glucosamine (1500 mg), Chondroitin (1200 mg), MSM(1000 mg or more), Cucurmin (250 to 500 mg.), and Ecklonia cava (720 mg Asian brown marine algae).

What Is The Significance Of A Cool Hand?

Dr. Markison feels that cool hands identify persons who will have health problems. Warm hands are indicative of individuals who will do well over the long term. Cool hands are under the influence of vasospasm or vasoconstriction which decreases the delivery of nutrients and interferes with elimination of toxins. Cool hands are endangered hands. These persons have decreased levels of oxygen and will be unable to perform vigorous exertion in a normal manner. Cool hands intensify arthritic pain and are proof of less than ideal blood flow. A cool hand is less able to withstand repetitive or forceful usage. To gauge hand temperature simply place the hand against the cheek.

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Most of the material in this article was taken from the October 2008 issue of Dr. Stephen Sinatra’s Heart, Health and Healing.


1- Newman TB , Hulley SB Carcinogenicity of lipid lowering drugs.Journal of American Medical Association 275:55-60 1996
2- Brown, S.L. et al Tumor necrosis antagonist therapy and lymphoma development

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Dr. James A. Howenstine is a board certified specialist in internal medicine. The Second Edition of his book A Physicians Guide To Natural Health Products That Work is available.

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An excellent reason for strengthening your hands is because of the relationship of the hands to brain function.