When you have arthritis, gripping a pistol can be like holding the handle of a jackhammer wrapped in barbed wire. Merely assuming your grip or trying to mitigate the gun’s recoil can cause “Uncle Arthur” to flare up. But why? The pain originates from the fact that a shooter must exert considerable force to support the weight of the pistol, and to provide the stability needed for accuracy. Such forceful contractions of muscles can increase pressure on the inflamed joints of the fingers and hands. There’s also the fact that the range of motion required to grasp a roughly tubular object of a relatively small diameter is actually quite large. The effect is strongly dependent on an individual’s personal characteristics such as hand size, finger length and strength, but in general, the smaller the diameter of the object to be grasped, the greater the demand on the joints to generate motion, which leads to greater pain. Here are some tips to help make that more manageable.
- Increase the diameter of the grip.
Increasing the diameter of the gun’s grip will decrease the range of motion your hands need to grasp it firmly. This is one of the more intuitive interventions, and one of the easiest. There are too many high-quality aftermarket grips that meet these criteria for us to list here, but knowing how they work should help you select the best option for your needs.
- Increase the friction between your hand and the gun.
Another intuitive option is wearing shooting gloves. They help grip and recoil management through padding, roughly textured palm areas, shock-absorbing materials and wrist supporting wraps. This means you don’t have to use as much force to maintain a firm grip on your pistol.
- Try a smaller caliber, if you can.
Additionally, recoil management can be addressed by selecting a different caliber gun. There is no doubt that every .45 ACP packs more recoil than every .22 LR, and that should translate to less pain while shooting. Unfortunately not everyone’s needs are met by this solution.
- Try a “cooler” load, if you can.
There are ammunition options that can dampen perceived recoil. Shooting a lower-grain projectile or avoiding “hot” defensive loads may help.
An alternative that many already practice is reloading their own ammunition to improve comfort when shooting. Reloading is clearly a large undertaking with a great depth of knowledge and skill required to perform safely, but like learning a foreign language, it can enhance the enjoyment of an already rewarding experience.
- Change your recoil springs.
In semi-automatics, through the compression of the recoil spring, the kinetic energy released by the ignited powder in a round is translated to stored or potential energy. That energy is then used to return the slide to the forward position, and to hold the chamber closed during the next ignition. Less recoil felt by the user is the side effect of all that work being performed by that spring. There are numerous aftermarket springs available, so finding one to fit your pistol should not be difficult. If you have any doubt, contact your gunsmith for his or her opinion before parting with your hard-earned cash.
- Port your barrel.
A ported barrel also relies on physics to tame the recoil of a firearm. There is no attempt at capturing and converting the energy in this case, however. The science behind cutting holes in a gun barrel is to provide more opportunities for the pressure to exit and spread its influence over a larger, less confined space. Of all the modifications covered in this article, barrel porting is likely one of the more expensive and less effective methods of reducing recoil, and reducing arthritis-related pain, but it is provided here as a measure of completeness.
Thanks to NRA Family and Dr. Joseph Logar, PT, DPT, for this article and hope it is helpful.