Despite how often we use them, the health and bio-mechanics of our hands isn’t normally something we think about daily (or, let’s face it, ever), until we injure ourselves.
44th Street‘s Phaeleau Cunneen, PT CHT, however, has been healing hands for the last 9 years, and when he joined SPEAR in June, began lending a helping, well, hand, to our patients suffering from fractures, repetitive stress injuries, and tendonitis.
We recently visited Phaeleau at his “hand booth” at 44th street to ask him about what we can do to maintain healthy hands and, of course, play with some theraputty!
1. When you can, use ergonomic handles to maintain proper hand form or hand position. AKA, keep it in neutral! “Ergonomic” has been a buzzword for years, but for good reason. Ergonomic products are usually wider, rounder, and support your hands so that you avoid stressing your joints and/or connective tissue as you use your appliances.
Narrower products or surfaces that don’t offer support, often result in the hyper-extension of finger joints, which relies on connective tissue for support. Phaeleau says that hyper-extension way over time will result in a stretching of the connective tissue and may result in injury if you have a manual job where you need to regularly apply pressure with your hand. Keeping your hands and fingers in a neutral position will prevent this long-term wear and tear. Correcting hand position takes time, but paying attention to how we use our hands is worth it!
2. Avoid repetitive movements over an extended period of time. For us desk jockeys, we probably use our hands more than any other part of our body (writing reports, emails, mousing through power point slides). Phaeleau agrees that it is “particularly difficult to do this in today’s age of iPads, remotes, and keyboards” however giving your hands a break throughout the day will decrease your chances of developing repetitive stress injuries.
So what does Phaeleau do with his patients who have developed hand injuries? Phaeleau says a patient favorite is theraputty (not to be confused with the silly variety), a silicone-based product used for tactile, range of motion, strengthening, and dexterity exercises.
Theraputty offers different resistance levels so as a patient improves his or her strength and range of motion, Phaeleau is able to gradually increase the difficulty level. For patients who have sustained a wrist injury that has kept them from opening a can or even turning a door knob, theraputty provides an opportunity to rehabilitate safely, gradually, and with the guidance of an expert who can help them learn proper form.
Phealeau uses a variety of sticks, knobs, and putty consistencies to safely measure a patient’s progress through an injury. There is even a consistency that helps with strengthening your toes (think of digging your feet into the sand, except doing it in putty).
Ultimately, moderation and mixing it up (remember to take breaks from typing and to practice ergonomic posture!) are the key to preventing hand and wrist injuries. If, however, you should happen to need a hand (sorry, we can’t get enough of this pun) getting better, Phaeleau is more than happy to help!