6 Kitchen Tips for People With Rheumatoid Arthritis

Good nutrition and home cooking usually include lots of chopping, slicing, peeling, and stirring—activities that are painful (and sometimes impossible) for people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). But that doesn’t mean RA patients have to give up good food or the joy that comes from cooking. With a few tips, tools, and techniques, patients can continue (or start!) cooking with confidence.

Rheumatoid Arthritis in the Kitchen

About 1.5 million Americans are affected by rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation, pain, and damage to joints and organs. RA particularly affects the small joints, like those in the hands and wrist, causing pain, swelling, and weakness that can make common kitchen activities difficult to manage. Take simple tasks like opening a jar, chopping an onion, or stirring batter: These maneuvers require strong muscles and joints to grasp, grip, twist, and chop—and can cause problems for RA patients.

Unfortunately, "Many people with RA can’t perform basic kitchen tasks due to weakness and pain in their joints. That means they either avoid doing them or have to wait for someone to help them," according to Carole Dodge, OT, CHT, clinical specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation in the occupational therapy division of University of Michigan Hospital and Health Systems, Ann Arbor. For some patients, their inability to prepare healthy foods means they don’t get the nutrition they need.

Luckily, occupational therapists like Dodge can help: "Our goal is to help patients remain as independent as possible. We focus on teaching adaptive techniques and introducing adaptive tools that help them perform kitchen tasks they might not otherwise be able to do without help."

6 Kitchen Tips for RA Patients

What kind of tools and techniques? Dodge offers this advice to better manage in the kitchen:

  1. Go big with utensils. "Using tools with larger handles means you don’t have to grip or hold on as tightly to perform activities as you would with smaller or thinner handles," Dodge points out. "Big handles enable you to transfer the physical stress created by an activity off the hand or wrist and move it up the arm where there’s less joint involvement and pain." Dodge likes OXO Good Grips tools with the big black handles.
  2. DIY. If you’re not in the market for new kitchen equipment, Dodge recommends making a trip to the local hardware store and purchasing lengths of Styrofoam pipe insulation; when attached to kitchen utensils, it can create bigger handles. She says, "It comes in a variety of widths and diameters that can be cut to fit the handles of spoons, knives, and other equipment."
  3. Use rubber matting. This hardware store staple, commonly used under rugs or to line shelves, is great in the kitchen, too. Cut into pieces and placed under bowls, "These mats can prevent bowls from slipping when you’re stirring, which reduces the amount of effort and stress your hands have to endure," Dodge explains. To make jars easier to open, use one square of matting under the jar for stability and another on the lid to assist your grip while you twist the jar open.
  4. Go electric. Use electric appliances whenever possible to spare your joints and prevent pain. "I love the Hamilton Beach electric jar opener and I always recommend that people use their food processor and electric mixer instead of hand chopping, slicing, and stirring," Dodge says.
  5. Take short cuts. Many of the healthy ingredients that make home cooking easier—like pre-cut produce and meats, and pre-shredded cheeses—are available at your local grocery store. Take advantage of these options: "Buying frozen or pre-chopped vegetables for soup can save your hands a lot of trouble," Dodge points out.
  6. Repurpose. Look for ways to reduce wear and tear on your joints by repurposing kitchen tools to serve multiple functions. For instance, an electric hand mixer can be substituted for a potato masher, and you can use your sturdy rolling chopping block (also known as a butcher block island, or kitchen cart) to transport heavy pots and pans from the counter to the stove or sink.

In addition to taking advantage of these specific tips, RA patients should also make an appointment with an occupational therapist to learn how to make kitchen tasks easier. As Dodge says, "It’s not just the equipment we recommend that makes cooking easier, it’s also the techniques we teach. The combination of adaptive tools and techniques help people protect their joints and function independently."

Carole Dodge, OT, CHT, reviewed this article.


Carole Dodge, OT, CHT. Interview March 9, 2015.

"Rheumatoid Arthritis." Arthritis Foundation. Page accessed March 9, 2015.