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Getting stiff

June 6, 2016
by Kathleen Mears
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For more than half my life I have used my left hand to do everything. Until three years ago I typed at my PC using an adaptive keyboard. Though I only used two fingers, it did help maintain my strength. When the keyboard died, there was no replacement and I now use voice activation software for writing and use my hand only for touchpad clicks. I wondered what effect that would have on me.

Two years ago I got a laptop, which I used to read, write, watch videos and keep up with the news. So instead of channel surfing the TV for several hours a day trying to find something good to watch on 70 channels, I used my window on the world—my laptop. It has been a freeing experience. But it has been very bad for my left hand and wrist.

I guess I never realized that no longer channel surfing would make my wrist and hand weaker. But that is what happened. When I use my laptop I keep my wrist in a rather fixed position to reach the touchpad. It does not move much and it has become stiff.

Sometimes I had trouble extending my wrist and pushing the joystick to operate my power chair. The chair is older and is more difficult to control, but some days my wrist seemed weak.

A few weeks ago I had kind of a mini meltdown in the hallway. I was on the way to lunch and I just could not make the chair go. The aides looked at me strangely wondering what was going on. An aide had to actually operate my joystick to get me to lunch.

Afterwards, I went crying to the assistant director of nursing asking for some therapy, new hand splints and a healthy dose of hope. She assured me it would be okay. And I wanted so badly to believe her.

Since then I have begun to get therapy. After three days of therapy in a row, I could not believe how much the swelling had gone down in my wrists and hands. But I am also sore. It is not so much pain as it is stiffness. The occupational therapy assistant used a hot pack several sessions to relax my muscles. Her hand massage was also effective.

Therapy suggested I make some adaptations. I removed one of the two pillows from under my elbow. Propping my elbow allows me to extend my reach and it keeps my elbow from hurting. But protecting my elbow was not allowing me enough wrist movement.

I started doing as much range of motion as I can do myself in a day. Since I no longer go on many shopping outings, I no longer get to tool around big-box stores in my power chair, which helped me maintain strength in my arm and hand. So I am developing other strategies.

They are right when they say, "Use it, or lose it."  As I age I realize I need to move my joints and muscles to maintain function.


Kathleen Mears

Kathleen Mears has been a nursing home resident in Ohio for 20 years. She is an incomplete...