Overview

Daily tasks using one hand

As a result of your surgery or injury, you might need to do your everyday activities using only one hand. These activities may become more challenging and time-consuming.

You might need to find new ways of doing your daily activities, use assistive devices or get help from someone to do a task. 

Your occupational therapist explains this information before you leave hospital. 

Planning ahead

Think about what tasks you need to do and how you will manage them. Plan a routine and prioritise the most important jobs.

Consider the layout of your environment. Keep commonly used items within reach, ideally between waist and eye level. Make the best use of space available on work surfaces, shelves, cupboards and drawers.

Keep floor areas free from clutter and hazards, such as rugs and wire cables. It is easier to lose your balance if you only have use of one hand or arm.

Bathing and showering

  • Use a non-slip mat. 
  • You may feel safer sitting on a bath board over the bath to lower the risk of slipping.
  • Use pump-dispenser products if they are available.
  • It is easier to squeeze water out of sponges than flannels.
  • Long-handled sponges, back-brushes and loofahs help you to reach your back and both armpits.
  • Sit down to dry your unaffected hand or arm using a towel on your knees.
  • A towelling dressing gown helps to dry hard-to-reach areas.

Dressing

  • Dress the injured or affected arm first.
  • Choose elasticated, loose clothing. You can buy button-extenders.
  • Use elasticated cufflinks.
  • Ask someone to adapt your clothing with Velcro®.
  • Do up your bra at the front, then swivel it round (or use a sports bra without fastenings). 
  • To put on a tie, secure the narrow end in a drawer or between your knees. Then tie the knot with your unaffected hand. Otherwise, use a clip-on tie.
  • Choose slip-on or Velcro-fastening shoes.
  • Use elasticated laces (available in most shoe or sports shops).
  • Avoid zips, buttons, buckles and other fastenings if possible.

Personal care and oral hygiene

Hair    

  • Wash your hair over a bath or sink using a shower hose or a jug.
  • Dry your hair as much as possible with a towel.
  • The easiest way to dry your hair is by using a cordless hot air brush.
  • Choose a low-maintenance style. Shorter hair can be easier to manage.
  • Otherwise, visit the hairdresser regularly for washing and styling.
  • If you usually wear a head wrap or turban, consider using a cap that you do not have to tie.

Shaving 

  • Try using an electric razor.

Teeth 

  • Use pump-dispenser toothpaste and an electric toothbrush.
  • Soak false teeth before brushing them. Sit down. Put a towel on your lap and put the dentures between your knees. Slowly rotate the dentures until you have brushed them clean.

Nails

  • Tape a nail file to a work surface and run your nails along it to file or shape them.

Toilet hygiene

  • Use boxed tissues instead of toilet roll if possible.
  • If you use a roll of toilet tissue, pinch the sheet you want to tear off with your thumb and ring finger. Use the middle and index fingers to pull the sheet from the roll.

Eating and drinking

  • Deep bowls or bowls with a raised edge prevent food from being scooped out by accident.
  • A non-slip mat keeps plates, bowls and cups still.
  • A cheese knife is a fork and knife in one, but be careful of the blade.
  • Soft foods, such as mashed potato and ready cut or sliced meats, are easier to manage.

Kitchen tasks

You may find it easier to do some kitchen tasks while sitting at a table, but other tasks may be easier standing by a worktop. There are a range of assistive devices available to help you prepare meals and cook. Your occupational therapist or local independent living centre can give you details of suppliers.

Cooking with one-hand can be challenging. It can also be dangerous when working with heat and sharp knives. If you have a splint, cast or prosthesis (artificial body part), be careful that this does not burn or melt. Any metal components can also get very hot.

Another option is to use a microwave. This is quicker and generally needs less effort than a cooker.

Here is a list of tips and assistive devices, which may help you with your kitchen tasks:

  • Buy pre-prepared food items, such as chopped salad, vegetables and meat.
  • Use a spike board to hold food steady while you peel or chop it.
  • Use a food processor or manual chopping device that chops larger amounts of ingredients.
  • Use a buttering board (also called a spreader board). This has raised edges around one corner. Stabilise a slice of bread or toast against the edge to prevent it from slipping around when you spread butter.
  • Use an electric can opener.
  • Use non-slip mats on the worktop or table surface to stop items of crockery slipping while you stir the contents.
  • To open a jar, stand it on top of a non-slip mat. Use a second non-slip mat on the lid, while you press down with the palm of your hand and turn the lid open. Otherwise, use a belliclamp. This is a device that allows you to use your hip or stomach to hold jars steady while you use your hand to open the lid.
  • Put a rubber band around a screw-top jar to make it easier to grip and open.
  • Put commonly used liquid ingredients, such as oil, sauces or mayonnaise, into pump-dispensers or flip-lid plastic bottles.
  • Fill kettles and saucepans with a jug if you find it too heavy to lift them with one hand. Another option is to use a small travel kettle.
  • Use a kettle tipper to avoid lifting a hot kettle. This tilts it forward for pouring.
  • When boiling items in a saucepan, put the food items into a wire basket first. Then put the basket into the saucepan for cooking. Once cooked, just lift the basket out of the pan with the food contents, and let the hot water drain into the saucepan. You can use a jug to empty the saucepan when the water has cooled.
  • Use a saucepan handle stabiliser to stop saucepans or frying pans rotating while you stir the contents.
  • A kitchen trolley helps you to carry several items around the kitchen at once. You can then carry the items in the trolley to your eating area (if there is a level surface).

Resource number: 3036/VER5
Last reviewed: December 2020
Next review due: December 2023

Logo PIF

Contact us

If you have any question or concerns about this information, please contact your therapist.

St Thomas’ Hospital, phone: 020 7188 4180

Guy’s Hospital, phone: 020 7188 4185

Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.

Email: [email protected]

pals icon

Do you have any comments or concerns about your care?

Contact our Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)

Is this health information page useful?