ASHT Focuses On Hand Therapy Awareness And Injury Prevention Week

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Hand Therapy Awareness And Injury Prevention

American Society of Hand Therapists is celebrating Hand Therapy Awareness and Injury Prevention Week, the week of June 11-15, 2007.

The purpose of the week is to promote hand injury prevention and bring attention to the benefits of hand therapy for patients who have been affected by an accident or medical conditions.

"Using common sense and joint protection techniques can help to minimize potential injury or overuse of our hands and arms. Poor daily routines can add up to painful long-term conditions unless you take proper care and precautions," says Stacey Doyon, OTR, CHT and president of ASHT.

Three-year old Damien, from Atlanta, learned this lesson at a very early age. When he began suffering from muscle spasms in his hand recently, his concerned mother, April Jackson, asked her hand therapist co-worker, Juliet Steffe, OTR, CHT, to help determine what was wrong with him.

Damien had already been tested for neurological problems and the results showed no abnormalities. Furthermore, since he is so young, it was very difficult for him to explain his symptoms. So the hand therapist looked at Damien's hand for potential causes that were leading to the muscle spasms. She found out that Damien was spending two to three hours a day on the computer while staying at his grandparents' house when his mother was at work.

According his mother, during the course of the day when Damien wasn't on the computer, his hand would spasm and he would start to cry. This gave the hand therapist a clear indication that the muscle spasms could be caused by extensive time on the computer, specifically using the mouse.

"I knew that focal hand dystonias can lead to writer's cramp and that musicians can often develop muscle spasms when doing any type of practicing or task for a long period of time without changing position," says Steffe. Dystonia is a movement disorder that causes the muscles to contract and spasm involuntarily. Estimates suggest that no less than 300,000 people in North America are affected, according to http://www.dystonia-foundation.org.

As a result of Steffe's observations and recommendations, Damien's mother no longer allows him to be on the computer every day and when he is on it, he is limited to no more than an hour at a time. She also found a different type of mouse for him to help prevent recurrences.

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"There has been almost a total resolution of symptoms -- he's only had one or two spasms since they started cutting him back," says Steffe. "But with any kind of dystonia it can take a while to completely resolve."

Related Research

Steffe notes that there have only been a handful of studies released in recent years looking at the impact of computer and video games on kids, including potential links to neck discomfort, repetitive strain injuries, cumulative trauma disorders, and wrist or back pain.

"Basically we still know very little about the risks of kids and computer use because there just hasn't been enough research on it," she added. "I think this could be something that is going unnoticed. It's really just coming to light what an issue it is. I think there may be kids going to their pediatrician complaining of neck, back or wrist pain, and inaccurately having it attributed to injury during play. These children need to be asked questions about other activities, because it could be something more repetitive that's a direct result of them spending so much more time now with computers and hand- held video games."

Timely Treatment

Therapy can be instrumental, Steffe continued, in educating children and parents on body mechanics, work stations, rest and stretch breaks. She's quick to point out that computers and hand-held video games can provide benefits to kids as well.

"There's definitely a place for them," concluded Steffe. "They do help with development of hand-eye coordination. We even use them as a therapeutic tool at times to work on developing visual-motor skills. But as a hand therapist, I worry about kids starting so young and spending time doing less fine-motor play. Instead they're holding a mouse and that doesn't provide them much opportunity to develop dexterity skills."

Injury Prevention

Injury prevention is not only important for children when using the computer, but also for playing video games and using handheld electronics including MP3 players and cell phones. It's equally important for both children and adults to take preventative measures, as adults use these items heavily as well.

ASHT has released the following professionally designed guidelines to foster healthier use of various electronics and portable devices:

-- Use a neutral grip when holding a device, whether a mouse or cell phone.

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