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April is National Occupational Therapy Month

Want to know why I love spring?

Spring is such a wonderful and glorious time of the year! With April comes a reawakening, with trees and flowers in bloom, birds chirping, and wildlife scampering to and fro. Children and parents enjoy the warmth of sun and wind after being cooped up during chilly winter months. It’s also a time that many adults (myself included) spring clean; going through closets, getting ready for the neighborhood yard sale and digging out the gardening tools to till the garden and clear the flower beds for this year’s display of veggies and flowers. It’s a time for softball and baseball and basketball games in the driveway. 

The outdoors offers us a fun place to play, but as we jump feet first into spring physical activities it is also a time when injuries can occur as our bodies have not been as challenged in the preceding winter months.

I’m an occupational therapist, and it’s somewhat ironic that spring coincides with National Occupational Therapy Month in April, but it does! During the spring season we begin to see an increase in referrals of tendonitis in our office, which may include tennis and golfer’s elbow.  And even though the names sound sport-specific, these injuries can happen for a number of reasons. A tennis or golfer’s elbow diagnosis normally occurs from overuse of the wrist flexors and extensors – including activities such as pulling weeds, using a screwdriver, painting and gardening. These types of tendonitis will feel like elbow and forearm pain, and are activities that can simply happen as a result of getting your house and yard ready for the grand re-beautification of spring or playing a game of tennis at the local courts. 

To prevent these inconvenient springtime overuse injuries (and avoid visiting an occupational therapist like me!) here are a few injury prevention tips to remember.

  1. Make sure to stretch before activity to warm up the muscles, during the activity for an active rest and to allow blood flow to be restored to those active muscles, and after the activity to allow for relaxation and restoration.
  2. Pace yourself – you may not have been as active during the winter months and may need to ease into activity rather than spending a full day digging in the flower beds or playing 18 holes of golf.
  3. Vary your activities so as to avoid overuse of one muscle group. For example, weed flower beds for 30 minutes, stretch, rake leaves for 30 minutes, stretch, pick up tree limbs for 30 minutes, stretch etc. This allows for a whole body experience lessening the likelihood for the development of an overuse injury.
  4. Conserve energy – sit when you are able to complete an activity.  Vary your positions and make sure that you are assuming ergonomic positions so as to avoid straining or over-gripping tools.
  5. Make sure to have your tennis racket strings adjusted and its grip padded.  Utilize oversized grips on your golf clubs to lessen strain with grip and utilize a tennis or golf pro for swing analysis to ensure proper form.
  6. Institute Joint Protection Principles – use tools that have large grips to decrease the amount of grip required to hold onto them. Use a knee pad or sit when pulling weeds to protect the knees and hips. Take frequent rest breaks and listen to your body. Pain is direct communication from your body that rest or repositioning is required. 
  7. If you have had a history of tendonitis in the past you may want to wear a counterforce strap over the forearm flexors/extensors to allow the musculotendinous portion of this muscle unit to rest while providing adequate force/strength to complete the activity.

If occupational therapy does become necessary, OrthoCarolina upper extremity specialists can help resolve pain and restore independence to return you to life activities that are meaningful. Many of our specialists hold “CHT” credentials for advanced study and competency in hand and upper extremity rehabilitation. 

Occupational therapy is the only profession that helps people across the lifespan to do the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of daily activities (occupations). Occupational therapy practitioners enable people of all ages to live life to its fullest by helping them promote health, and prevent—or live better with—injury, illness, or disability. More information.

Stacy Rumfelt OTR/L, OTD, CHT, CLT is an occupational therapist at OrthoCarolina Gastonia location and can be reached at (704)671-1860 or to schedule an appointment.  Each spring she enjoys hiking, kayaking, running, yard work and various other fitness activities in order to stay fit and live life to its fullest.

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