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Shaken, not sprained: experts give politicians grip-and-grin safety tips

Rahm Emanuel needs to keep his fingers closer together. (Reuters/Frank Polich)

With the midterm elections approaching, a key constituency of health-care professionals is expressing concern about the ability of our nation's political leaders to perform one of their most essential duties.

Handshaking: They're doing it wrong!

So warns the Bethesda-based American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), which gave us some guidelines on how politicians should put their best hand forward at all their fundraisers and meet-and-greets.

  • Get a firm lock on the other person's hand, so the web between your thumb and finger meets theirs.
  • Keep your elbow at a 90-degree angle.
  • Hold your wrist straight; shake from the arm.

    Sound obvious? Don't laugh! Cindy McCain ended up in a sling from a badly executed shake while campaigning for her husband in 2008. "The hand has very small joints," AOTA's Deborah Yarett Slater told us. "If you're shaking hands all day, constantly repeating the motion, you can get inflammation. And when the hands swell there's not a lot of place for the swelling to go."

    Nancy Pelosi shakes hands with Wu Bangguo, demonstrates two-hand method. (AP/Harry Hamburg)

    Slater is worried about Rahm Emanuel. (Note: The candidate for Chicago is missing half a finger on his shaking hand.) He does a good job of initiating handshakes, which helps maintain control, but keeps his fingers too far apart and allows his arm to stretch too far, she said after studying news videos. "A strong shake from a Chicago committeeman might sprain a finger."

    Meanwhile, in Delaware, Christine O'Donnell has been allowing the shakers to control her hand -- very risky -- and bending at dangerous angles, Slater said.

    The safest tactics: The two-handed handshake -- Nancy Pelosi does this very well, Slater said -- or the Clintonesque half-hug, arm flung around the shaker's shoulder. Really! We thought pols just did that to ingratiate. "It's an effort to distribute the force," she said.

  • By The Reliable Source  | October 12, 2010; 1:05 AM ET
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    I recall reading that when President Teddy Roosevelt held an open house at the White House, he shook so many hands that his own right hand was painful and swollen for days afterwards.

    What about the public health risks of spreading cold and flu germs via handshake? Perhaps Donald Trump is on to something after all!

    Posted by: Nosy_Parker | October 12, 2010 2:35 PM | Report abuse

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