Shaking Hands

One of my first problems with RA – in that period of time between when I first saw my PCP and when I was finally diagnosed by a rheumatologist – had to do with greeting people.

In our society, when you meet somebody new, introductions are made; people shake hands.  A lot of information is conveyed in that handshake.  A firm grip says one thing, a limp noodle says something completely different.

I found it to be a particular problem on Sunday mornings.   In some churches, people turn around and shake hands with the people sitting directly in front of, and behind them, then sit down.  Not mine.  Everybody spends fifteen minutes walking around and shaking hands with everyone else.  Not fun when your hands hurt.

That led to my first consultation with Dr. Google:  “How can I politely avoid shaking hands?”  For such a common problem, I found a disturbing lack of tips.  Avoiding the situation is next to impossible – especially when you work.  I asked others with more experience, and set about compiling coping strategies for handshakes.

  • Turn hand 90 degrees, palm down.  The people with whom you’re shaking hands will automatically rotate their own hand to compensate, thus they don’t grip so tightly.  This is easy for women, but might be awkward for men; one man I know turns his hand palm-up and that works just as well for him.
  • Use two hands for an extra-friendly handshake.  People don’t set out to prove who’s strongest when you do this.
  • Wear gloves.  Compression gloves are said to help sore hands, but I’ve found that people give a more gentle handshake even if I’m wearing driving gloves.  Once I forgot my driving gloves and wore wool gloves.  This works if you’re indoors and everyone else is bare-handed; it does not work outdoors.
  • Some people recommend offering your left hand instead of your right.  You’d think that this would provoke questions, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.  People just assume there’s a reason you’re being non-traditional, and don’t squeeze as firmly with their left hand.  I know a man who just flips his left hand upside down so that others can still shake with their right.
  • Wear an ace-bandage or wrist brace.  The drawback to this is that then you have to answer the question, “What did you do to your hand?”
  • Hold something lightweight in your hand.  Keys, pencils… anything that can be used to stab people who try to hurt you!
  • Instead of stepping forward to shake hands, step back slightly and bow (Asian style).  Smile, and carry on with the conversation.

A few I wouldn’t want to try in a place of employment, but work well in a casual setting:

  • Step back, laugh, and make a cross with both hands (as if you’re warding off a vampire).  Explain that you’re coming down with (or just getting over) a cold and don’t want to spread the germs.
  • Don’t shake hands; just smile and wave – even if you’re only two feet apart.

Final tip:  carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer in your pocket so that (once greetings are over and nobody’s looking) you can kill all those germs you just collected!

The good news is that it gets better.  As your meds kick in and work their magic, shaking hands isn’t usually painful.

Any other maneuvers you’d like to share for making socially mandatory handshakes less painful?