The Elbow & Repetitive Strain Injuries

Unlike the shoulder, the elbow joint has a tremendous amount of bony stability. The lower end of the long bone of the upper arm (the humerus) meets the two long forearm bones (the radius and the ulna) at the elbow. The majority of the muscles that bend the wrist and the fingers attach to the inner portion of the elbow. The majority of the muscles that straighten the wrist and the fingers attach to the outer portion of the elbow.

The neutral position of the elbow, with the arm relaxed at the side of the body, is with the thumb facing forward and the palm facing toward the body. With the elbow bent, this neutral position is the “handshake” position.
Factors that Contribute to Elbow Pain

  • Repetitive wrist movement, especially with the forearm fully rotated palm-up or palm-down, repetitive rotation of the forearm, and repetitive elbow bending and straightening can all contribute to inflammation of the tendons as they insert into the elbow.
  • Bony and ligamentous grooves and tunnels near the elbow through which the three main nerves that provide power and sensation to the hand pass. The shearing motion or compression of the tendon and nerves as they pass through these tight areas can contribute to repetitive strain injuries.
  • The degree of the elbow carrying angle (the angle of deviation of the forearm bones in relationship to the upper arm bone when the arm is held at the side with the palm facing forward).
  • Maneuvering the arms around a larger upper body when placing the hands on the keyboard is also a factor.

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

When you hit your “funny bone” you are actually hitting the ulnar nerve as it passes through a bony groove at the inside of the elbow. The nerve is particularly vulnerable as it passes through this superficial groove. Bending the elbow stretches the nerve through this groove tautly. Holding the elbow bent for prolonged periods, such as when holding a phone to the ear or sleeping with the elbows bent, can cause this nerve to become irritated. If you experience aching along the small finger (ulnar) aspect of the forearm and hand, or if you have tingling or numbness in the ring and small finger, it is especially important to avoid positioning the elbow in a bent position, either with activity or at night. Avoid repetitive elbow bending and straightening. Contact a medical professional for treatment.
Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis)

Tennis elbow initially begins as an inflammation where the muscles attach to the outside edge of the elbow. Activities that contribute to this inflammation include repetitively pulling back (extending) the wrist and the fingers; repetitively rotating the forearm palm-up and palm-down, especially when holding an object in the hand; and lifting objects with the forearm rotated in the palm-down (pronated) position. Carrying a suitcase, briefcase or laptop backpack are activities that can cause tennis elbow.
Golfer’s Elbow (Medial Epicondylitis)

Golfer’s elbow is similar to tennis elbow, except that it begins as an inflammation where the muscles attach to the inside edge of the elbow. Activities that contribute to this inflammation include repetitively bending the wrist and closing the fingers; performing fine motor activities with the wrist bent, and repetitively rotating the forearm.

The farther away from the body that you perform activity, the more tension that is placed on the tendons where they insert into the elbow.

RSI and Prevention

Positioning

      • Avoid sleeping with the elbow bent more than 90 degrees to reduce the amount of stress on the nerve.
      • Don’t sleep with the hands placed behind the head.
      • Avoid sleeping on your stomach.
      • Use soft pillows under the arms.
      • Wear a sleeve with a pad that protects the elbow or wrap an ace bandage around a small, soft pad.

Computer Use

    • Position the keyboard so that the elbows are open more than 90 degrees.
    • Pad any sharply angled surfaces that the arms rest upon. Or place a folded towel under the arms as a cushion.
    • Don’t lean on the elbows.
    • Avoid repetitive elbow bending and straightening, excessive wrist movement or repetitive forearm rotation.
    • Use a split keyboard, especially if you find that you need to deviate the wrists out of the
      neutral position (middle finger in line with the forearm bones) when placing the fingers on the keyboard. This is particularly important if you have a large elbow carrying angle or a larger upper body.
    • Move the mouse from the shoulder, not the wrist.
    • Take frequent micro-breaks.
    • Stretch often.
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Trigger Finger – Repetitive Strain Finger Pain

Mouse and keyboard use can cause finger pain. One common cause of finger pain is called trigger finger. Trigger finger is a swelling of the tendon or tendon sheath in the palm of the hand of the tendons that bend the fingers. This swelling prevents the tendon from gliding smoothly through the sheath and the “pulley” (ligament) which holds the tendon to the bone. Trigger finger occurs most frequently in the middle finger and the ring finger, but it can occur in any finger or the thumb.SYMPTOMS

  • A locking, snapping, popping or catching sensation in the finger while making a fist.
  • This “triggering” of the finger can be quite painful at times.
  • The finger may “lock” into a bent position.
  • There will most likely be pain or tenderness in the palm of the hand over the site of the pulley which holds the tendon close to the bone.
  • There may be joint stiffness and pain in the affected finger.

OCCUPATIONAL CAUSES

  • Repetitively gripping or bending and straightening the fingers (e.g. – mouse clicking)
  • Sustained gripping (e.g. – squeezing the mouse forcefully or holding a pen in a “death grip”)
  • Using tools that have handles with sharp or hard edges

ERGONOMICS

  • Avoid repetitive grasping and releasing of objects. Modify the activity if you are unable to avoid it. Look for ergonomic mice or larger barreled pens. Change your typing style so that your fingers are relaxed on the keyboard and mouse.
  • Avoid sustained grasp.
  • Keep the fingers relaxed over the keyboard. Do not plant your wrist down on the wrist rest while typing as this causes excessive and stressful finger movements to reach all the keys. Rather, the wrist should glide over the wrist rest, allowing the fingers to be positioned over the keys in a relaxed manner.
  • Purchase tools with padded, comfortable handles.
  • Handles should have some texture for easier holding. Slippery surfaces require more forceful grasping.
  • Minimize repetition. Periodically rest the hands during repetitive or stressful activity. Stretch frequently during repetitive activity.
  • Slow down!
  • Use the lightest grip possible (on tools, pens, the mouse, the steering wheel, etc.) that still allows you to maintain good control.
  • Use the least amount of force necessary during the activity.
  • Use the appropriate tool for the job.
  • Use ergonomically designed tools if available (modified or padded handles, larger grips with good traction, handles with modified designs).
  • Make sure that tools are in good condition and that cutting edges are sharp (reduces the force needed to use the tool).
  • Alternate work activities so the hands are not performing any one task repetitively for any length of time.

And It Hurts…Here…Because? Ergonomic Recommendations

The location of where you are experiencing pain while working at a desk or on a computer can often give clues as to what needs to be adjusted during an ergonomic intervention.  Here is a quick guide of worksite and work-method recommendations that may help when you are feeling pain in a specific area.

Finger Pain – May indicate arthritic joints, a trigger finger, or strain from overuse.  Avoid squeezing the mouse too hard or pounding the keyboard.  Keep a light touch when typing.  Hold your pen lightly when writing.

Thumb Pain– May indicate a trigger thumb or DeQuervain’s Tenosynovitis.  Often occurs from either squeezing the mouse too hard or from tensing the thumb (as if hitch-hiking) over the keyboard keys.  Keep the thumbs relaxed using only the minimal amount of force needed to control the mouse.  When typing, keep the thumbs relaxed and just hovering over the keyboard.  Don’t pound the space bar.  Also, when writing, use a larger-barreled pen and don’t squeeze the pen too tightly.  Keep the thumb tip relaxed and only slightly bent – it is common for people write with their thumb tips bent at an extreme angle.

Wrist Pain or Pain at the Base of the Hand/Thumb– May indicate a tendinitis where the wrist muscles attach (flexor or extensor tendinitis), DeQuervain’s Tenosynovitis, or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.  These are often caused by swiveling the mouse in or by poor wrist positioning.  Keep the wrist neutral (flat – not bent forward or back or angled side-to-side; the middle finger should be in a parallel line with the forearm).  Initiate small movements to control the mouse from the elbow and shoulder.   Don’t squeeze the mouse too tightly – use only the minimal amount of force necessary to control it.  Check your keyboard size and fit.  Pain over the small finger side of the wrist is often caused by the outward angulation of the wrist required to rest your hand on the home keys.  Using an ergonomic split keyboard is a quick-and-easy way to provide neutral wrist positioning.

Elbow Pain – May indicate an inflammation where the forearm muscles attach into the upper arm bone at the elbow – Medial or Lateral Epicondylitis.  Can also be caused by several nerve compression syndromes that occur near the elbow – Cubital Tunnel Syndrome, Radial Tunnel Syndrome.  Check out the positioning of the keyboard height and mouse location.  When working at a computer, your ear, shoulder and elbow should be stacked in a vertical alignment.  If your elbow is not relaxed at your side, you may need to change positioning by lowering the keyboard surface or getting in closer to your desk.  The elbow should not be bent at more than a 90 degree angle while using the computer.  A mouse that positions the arm in a more neutral “hand-shake” position may also be helpful.  Don’t swivel the mouse from the wrist.  Also, keep the hand relaxed on the mouse and use only the smallest amount of force necessary to activate the mouse click.  Don’t hold the index finger stiffly over the mouse (as if pointing) and don’t pound the mouse buttons, especially with a straight finger.  Rather, keep the index finger slightly bent and lightly touching the mouse.

Shoulder Pain – Often caused by reaching forward for long periods of time for the keyboard or mouse.  When working at a computer, your ear, shoulder and elbow should be stacked in a vertical alignment.  If your elbow is not relaxed at your side, you may be reaching forward causing strain on the arm muscles.  It takes work to hold the arm in this position for long periods of time even if the work itself is not too forceful.  To keep the upper arm muscles more relaxed, you may need to lower the keyboard surface or get in closer to your desk.  Check your chair.  Are you sitting back in the char?  Does it provide proper lumbar support and seat depth?  Look at the arm rest height.  You may need to lower the arm rests in order to keep the shoulders relaxed.

Neck Pain, Eye-Strain & Headaches – Often caused by poor positioning of the monitor.  Position the monitor directly in front of the keyboard so you are not twisting the body while using the computer.  Check out the height and distance of the monitor.  It may need to be adjusted so that you can clearly see the monitor print without tipping the head forward or back.  Avoid using bifocals while on the computer.  If you work extensively from copy, keep the copy in front of the monitor or directly to each side.  Use a tray that holds the copy close to monitor height to avoid repetitively looking up-and-down from the copy to the monitor.  Use a phone headset to avoid cradling the phone between the shoulder and the ear if you need to type and talk at the same time.

The Shoulder & Repetitive Strain Injuries

Anatomy

The shoulder is a unique joint in the body. It has a great deal of mobility in order to allow us to reach and perform activities away from our body. The cost of this mobility is a lack of stability. Most of the stabilizing forces at the shoulder are muscular and ligamentous rather than bony. These soft tissues that provide the shoulder motion and stability can be at risk for repetitive strain injuries.

The shoulder is composed of three bones: the clavicle (collar bone), the scapula (shoulder blade), and the humerus (long bone of the upper arm). The rotator cuff surrounds the shoulder and provides muscular stability for the humeral head. The shoulder blade controls shoulder motion. Nine of the fifteen muscles that attach to the scapula provide this motion.

RSI

With computer, desk, assembly or other types of hand intensive work, the neck and shoulders round forward and the upper arm tends to rotate inward. The chest muscles become tight. The muscles of the back weaken and stretch. The upper trapezius (the big, bulky muscles that make up the top of the shoulder) try to compensate by working harder than they should. Muscle knots and tension develop. The arms feel tired and weak. Eventually, this muscular imbalance can cause a tendonitis in the rotator cuff (supraspinatus) or in the biceps where it attaches to the humerus. Or the fluid cushion (bursa) between the rotator cuff and the shoulder bones can become inflamed (bursitis).

Poor posture can be the primary factor in developing shoulder pain. Other activities that tend to cause problems are prolonged or repetitive overhead reaching (such as when lifting binders or books down from shelves above the computer) or holding the arms elevated while typing, using the mouse, or performing other hand work. Tichauer (1978, The Biomechanical Basis of Ergonomics) discovered that a chair height that was 3 inches too low for a worker caused excessive shoulder movements and reduced productivity by as much as 50%.

RSI Prevention for Shoulder Pain

  • Neutral and Relaxed Shoulder Positioning
    • Postural awareness is of major importance in injury prevention.
    • The shoulders (upper trapezius muscle) should be relaxed while working.
    • Arms should be positioned at your side with the ears, shoulders and elbows in line.
    • Avoid rounding the shoulders or hunching forward
    • Maintain a neutral neck posture.
  • Ergonomics
    • Chair height should allow you to reach the work surface/keyboard/mouse with the elbows opened slightly greater than 90 degrees and the shoulders relaxed, not elevated.
    • Use of arm supports has been debated in the therapeutic community. The shoulders should be allowed to move freely to position the hands so that excessive movement is not required at the more vulnerable elbows, wrists and fingers. However, unsupported use of the arms is a contributing factor in shoulder pain.
    • If using arm rests, they should be positioned at a height that allows the shoulders to be relaxed. Do not plant the forearms down on the rests while typing. Allow the forearms to glide over the rests unless taking a break from hand activity.
    • Articulating Arm Rests are a good option for providing support with movement.
    • Position your activity and supplies so that repetitive or sustained lifting or reaching is avoided.
    • If you do need to reach frequently overhead, use a step-stool so that the object you are reaching for is closer to you with less shoulder stretch needed.
    • Keep the keyboard and mouse in close to the body
    • Place frequently needed items in a close work envelope between hip and shoulder height.
  • Tension and Stress
    Many people hold tension in their shoulders. When feeling stressed, try to break the cycle by practicing diaphragmatic breathing techniques or taking a quick break away from the demanding situation. Perform some shoulder rolls emphasizing the backwards and downwards movements.
  • Exercise
    • Stretch frequently throughout the day.
    • Take frequent micro-breaks.
    • Try these exercises to recreate muscular balance in the shoulder complex. Remember, these exercises should not cause pain. Start slowly using a light weight. Add additional weight and repetitions gradually.
      • Strengthen the Rotator Cuff with Side-Lying External Rotation
        • Hold a light weight in your right hand. Lying on your left side, hold your right elbow tucked in at your side. Not moving the elbow away from your side, lift your hand towards the ceiling, then smoothly and slowly move your hand towards your stomach. Repeat 8-12 times. Perform 1-2 sets. Repeat with the other arm.
      • Stretch the Pecs with the Doorway Stretch
        • Stand in a doorway facing the doorway jam. Bend your elbow placing one forearm along the doorway jam with the hand at about head height. Slowly rotate your body away from the doorway jam until you feel a nice stretch in your chest muscle close to your shoulder. Hold for 20-30 seconds. Repeat 2-3 times. Repeat with the other arm.
      • Towel Stretches for Internal and External Rotation
        • Drape a towel over your left shoulder holding to the upper end of the towel with your left hand. Place your right arm behind your back and grab on to the end of the towel. With your left hand, pull your right hand up along the spine as if you are trying to scratch an itch as high up your back as possible. Hold for 20 seconds. Repeat 2-3 times. Then with your right hand, pull the towel down, stretching the left hand along the spine as if you are trying to scratch an itch as low on the back as possible. Hold for 20 seconds. Repeat 2-3 times. Repeat with the other arm.
      • Shoulder Opener
        • Lie on a Foam Roller with the spine and heal supported and the arms relaxed at your sides. Support the arms with pillows if needed. Let the shoulders roll back around the foam roller. Stretch for a minimum of 3 minutes. Perform diaphragmatic breathing while stretching.

Pain-Free Mousing

When performing ergonomic assessments, the main factors that I have found that contribute to mousing pain include:

  • Mouse Positioning
  • Mouse Movement
  • Muscular Tension When Using the Mouse
  • Forearm Position

Here are some tips to help reduce your risk of developing a repetitive strain injury or tendinitis from mouse use.
MOUSE POSITIONING

Causes of Pain

  • Reaching forward for the mouse onto a desk that is higher than the keyboard.
  • Reaching for a mouse placed to the far side of the keyboard.

Tips for Preventing Pain

  • Position the mouse in a more comfortable and ergonomic location
    • Use an attachable mouse holder that adjusts to fit over numerical key pad (if you do not use the 10-key) or as closely to it as possible.
    • Or use a keyboard bridge over the numerical keys if you do not use the 10-key portion of the keyboard.
    • Or use a keyboard station such as the Contour Roller Pro which has a rollerbar mouse that is positioned immediately below the space bar of the keyboard.

MOUSE MOVEMENT

Causes of Pain

  • Excessive wrist or arm movement when activating the mouse.
  • Planting the wrist down and swiveling the mouse using wrist motion.
  • Planting the wrist down placing pressure against the carpal tunnel.
  • Bending the wrist backward (extended) when using the mouse.

Tips for Preventing Pain

  • The mouse should be at about the same level of the keyboard and positioned as closely to the keyboard as possible.
  • Avoid reaching forward, up, or out to the side when using the mouse. Position the mouse to avoid these movements (see mouse positioning tips).
  • Activate the mouse by using small movements from the shoulder and elbow muscles rather than the wrist muscles.

Ergonomics

  • Keep the shoulders relaxed.
  • The elbow should be held loosely at the side in a direct line under the shoulder.
  • The wrist should be held in a neutral position (not bent forward or back or angled to one side or the other).
  • Do not plant the wrist down on that desk or on a wrist rest. Glide the wrist over surfaces always maintaining the neutral position.

MUSCULAR TENSION WHEN USING THE MOUSE

Causes of Pain

  • Forcefully squeezing the mouse between the thumb and small finger.
  • Forcefully activating the mouse buttons or switches.

Tips for Preventing Pain

  • Hold the mouse as lightly as you can while still maintaining control.
  • Keep the fingers held loosely against buttons and switches, not floating tensely in the air.
  • Do not pound mouse buttons or forcefully squeeze switches. Use only the lightest force necessary to activate controls.
  • Using a wireless mouse can eliminate the tension of pulling against the cord (even these small tensions add up by the end of the day).
  • Use a mouse and mouse pad that can be switched easily from the right to the left hand to share the work load between the two hands.
  • A keyboard station such as the Contour Roller Pro that incorporates a rollerbar mouse eliminates the need to hold the mouse.
  • Research mousing options such as the NoHands foot-activated mouse or a head-activated mouse placed in a baseball cap.
  • Perform forearm and wrist stretches throughout the day.
  • Gently stretch the thumb into the hitch-hiking position.

FOREARM POSITIONING

Causes of Pain

  • The forearm rotated into the palm-down position for long periods of time.

Tips for Preventing Pain

  • Vertical mice are good choices as the hand shake position with the forearm neutral rather than palm down can relieve forearm stress.
  • Stretch into the palm-up position throughout the day.

Scars

Scar tissue development is a natural and important part of the healing process.  A scar forms to repair the skin and other tissues that are damaged by trauma, burns or surgical incisions.  Without the process of scarring, wounds would not close.

Although some of the people that I treat in the clinic are concerned about the appearance of their scars, I find that the majority who attend hand therapy don’t seem to be.  In fact, surprisingly, the scar is often considered to be a badge of honor, a tribute to the injury that was overcome. So, if scarring is a natural process and improved appearance is not a concern, why is it important to address scarring in injuries or after a surgery?

Our skin and the tissues underneath it (fascia, tendons, nerves) are arranged in layers that slide and glide on each other.  When a scar forms, the body does not differentiate these layers of tissue but lays down collagen to fill in the wound – binding all the tissues together.  This binding can lead to loss of full motion; to a feeling of stiffness even if motion is fully restored; and to pain as tissues that normally slide smoothly on and around each other begin tugging and creating friction..

Try this activity:

  1. Fully straighten the fingers of your left hand and look at the skin on the back of your hand.  The skin is loose and you will be able to see small wrinkles.
  2. Now, make a fist with your left hand.  Pay attention to how the hand feels while making that fist.  You should be able to make a fist easily (assuming you have not had an injury).  Observe how the skin tightens over the back of the hand and the wrinkles disappear for the most part when your hand is positioned in a full fist..
  3. Now, open the hand again.  Place your right fingers over the back of the left hand with some firm (but not painful) pressure.  Attempt to make a fist with the left hand while maintaining the pressure against the back of the hand with the right fingers.  Do you notice a difference in the effort that it takes to attempt to make a fist as the tissues are prevented from sliding over each other?
  4. Open the hand again.  Now, actually push the skin towards the wrist with the right fingers as you attempt to make a fist with the left hand.  Can you feel the stress of the movement translated even into the tips of the fingers?

This demonstrates the effect of an outside force impeding the normal sliding of tissues during movement.

So, what can we do to limit the effect of the scar formation on the surrounding tissues?

  • Massage the scar – 2-3X a day for 2-3 minutes each session.
    • Perform small circles over the scar.
    • Place your fingers just to the side of the scar and push into the scar tightness.  Repeat in the opposite direction.  Repeat along the length of the scar.
    • Try to lift or roll the scar up from the tissues underneath it.
    • Do not rub the scar vigorously.  This creates friction and can cause blistering in a new scar.
    • Do not separate the sides of the scar or pull the scar to widen it.

scar massage

  • Provide compression over the scar with gloves or sleeves or a scar mold provided by a therapist.

finger sleevejuzo_gloves

  • Use silicone gel pads over the scar at night.

silicone get

  • Perform range of motion exercises as able (depending upon any precautions related to the type of injury) so that the scar is lengthening during the healing phase.

If the scar continues to cause pain or problems after its natural remodeling phase, there may be other medical options to minimize the effect of the scar including laser treatments, corticosteroid injections, and surgical removal.

 

What Exactly Is Occupational Therapy?

While watching a special on CNN last week about the future rehabilitation needs of the Boston Marathon Bombing victims, a beautiful segment was aired that showed occupational therapy at it’s finest.  This program section followed the recovery of a gentleman with a lower extremity amputation caused during an industrial accident.  His return to functional independence was emphasized through balance activities as he performed basic daily and work activities (making coffee and a shoveling-simulation task).

Unfortunately, the segment did not specify that the activities being performed were directed by an occupational therapist.  The general term “therapy” was used, and physical therapy was implied.  But the process certainly felt like an occupational therapy intervention.  Was this an oversight by CNN?  I certainly don’t think so.  But why, as happens too frequently, did occupational therapy hide in the shadows?  My thoughts:  name confusion; a professional philosophy that is difficult to describe in just a few, simple words; and the ever increasing demands of the healthcare industry.

So, what exactly is occupational therapy?  Is it fine motor control (occupational therapy) versus gross motor control (physical therapy). Or is it upper extremity rehab (arms = occupational therapy) versus lower extremity rehab (legs = physical therapy).  These are quick, easy explanations, but certainly not thorough and sets up for division of therapy efforts versus collaboration.

The roots of occupational therapy go back to World War I.  At that time, there was a large demand for the rehabilitation of injured soldiers returning home.  Rather than focusing on only the physical component of injuries,  the nearly 148,000 soldiers admitted to hospitals between 1917 and 1920 were treated with a holistic approach by “reconstruction aides” who borrowed from the fields of nursing, psychiatry, rehabilitation, self-care, and social work.  This whole-body, activity-focused and client-cenered treatment encouraged the patient to take an active roll in his recovery and used purposeful activity to enhance the rehab experience.  By 1920, the field of occupational therapy was officially founded.

Fast-forward to the 21st century, the term “occupation” is now essentially synonymous with work activity.  It’s not unusual for a client to arrive at the clinic and ask: “Are you going to get me a job?”;  or “I’m 78 years old. Why is the doctor sending me to occupational therapy?  I’m not going to go back to work.”  Historically, however, the term “occupation” meant any purposeful activity in the triad of self-care, leisure and work demands that occupied our time.

This historic definition of the term “occupation” is the basis of the occupational therapy philosophy to treatment.  It is what sets us apart from the profession of physical therapy.  Traditionally, physical therapists focus on strength and motion, on the biomechanics of an injury.  As an occupational therapist focusing on the rehabilitation of hand injuries, I borrow from those techniques.  Certainly, the physical recovery of an injury is an essential component of hand rehabilitation.  But the purpose is not just to gain motion and strength.  It goes beyond that.  The following quote, attributed to Mary Reilly, appears on the website for the American Society of Hand Therapists – “…man, through the use of his hands, as they are energized by mind and will, can influence the state of his own health”.

The American Occupational Therapy Association states: “Occupational therapy practitioners bring an added dimension to this [hand therapy] specialty area.  They use an occupation-based and client-centered approach that identifies the participation needs of the client –  what he or she wants to be able to do in daily life that is fulfilling and meaningful – and emphasizes the performance of desired activities as the primary goal of therapy.”  The ultimate goal of occupational therapy is to preserve life roles and habits; to promote a sense of normalcy and psychological well-being during day-to-day functioning; and to make the client a partner in his or her rehabilitation rather than a passive participant.

86% of certified hand therapist are occupational therapists and only 14% are physical therapists.  Yet, the majority of clients attending hand therapy believe that they are receiving physical therapy.  To be honest, each of our professions has benefitted from using techniques from the other.  But I have a terrible confession to make – when I overhear someone on their phone telling their ride to pick them up from physical therapy in 10 minutes, I don’t always correct them.  It’s not that I’m not proud of being an occupational therapist, or that I’m a wanna-be physical therapist.  The truth of the matter is, healthcare providers are struggling to provide quality care with an increased demand for treating a larger caseload, more documentation requirements, and less financial reimbursement.  As awful as it may be, there are times when I have to choose between educating my client about the philosophical difference between OT and PT and providing practical information on scar management, control of swelling, and home exercises. And that is why occupational therapy stays hidden in the shadows rather than taking it’s place in the spotlight.

Yet, occupational therapist should be proud of what they do and of the many people they help to recover from injuries that can threaten well-being as well as physical function.  Some common examples of role disruption that we might see in the clinic include:  a child who is having difficulty with the role of student as fine motor deficits impair his or her writing skills; a young lady who is having difficulty with the role as a mother as “new mom’s tendinitis” impairs her ability to care for her baby; a graduate student who is having difficulty with the role as lab assistant as a snow board fracture impairs his ability to fill pipettes in a science lab; a baby boomer who is having difficulty with the role as wage earner as carpal tunnel syndrome impairs her ability to use a computer keyboard; a retiree who is having difficulty with the role as a volunteer as arthritis impedes his ability to make a full fist. Practically speaking, the occupational therapist looks at these life roles, assesses the amount of dysfunction the injury or illness is causing, and promotes healing through injury recovery or activity modification.   According to the University of Southern California’s Occupational Therapy Program: “no matter what injury, illness, condition, disability, lifestyle, or environment stands in the way, occupational therapists help people to perform, modify, or adapt their skills and activities in order to live healthier, happier, and more productive lives.

So, go live life to the fullest!  Marji

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