Take Advantage of Everything

Tuesday 08/21/2018

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Take Advantage of Everything

When it comes to living with a cervical spinal cord injury (SCI), I say take advantage of everything.  Not being able to use your arms and hands like ‘normal’ can put big limitations on your independence.  So anything you can do to enhance your arm and hand function – do it!

Megan Moynahan, Executive Director of the IFR, came across the video highlighted below and shared it with me.  The video (click on the picture) talks about hand function after SCI and shows three people with SCI demonstrating how they utilize a few currently available options to improve their hand function:

  • Universal cuff – easy to get on/off by yourself; useful for holding utensils, toothbrush, hair brush, pen, stylus, etc
  • Tenodesis grasp – passive opening and closing of your fingers by moving your wrist up and down; good for picking up light objects
  • Tendon transfers – surgery that takes a tendon from a muscle you can control and attaches it to a muscle you cannot control; can improve grip, pinch, or arm extension
  • Tendodesis splint – easy to get on/off by yourself; a wrist-driven device that creates a useful pinch to hold things like a pen, utensil, paintbrush, catheter, etc

As I watched this video I realized I’ve tried all of these options over the years, with great success.  The first things I started using after my injury were the universal cuff and the tenodesis splint.  These enabled me to eat, brush my teeth, brush my hair, put make up on, paint – all by myself.  Over the years I learned how to use my tenodesis grasp and relied on the splint less.

Three years ago I decided to have tendon transfers in both arms to enable me to have triceps function – crucial for arm extension.  The thought of surgery and a 2-month recovery was intimidating at first, but the end result has been very useful in everyday life – I can reach over my head without my arm dropping and hitting me!

Finally, last year, I decided to participate in a clinical trial and had a functional electrical stimulation device implanted into my arm to give me even more hand function.  This device happens to be the Networked Neuroprosthesis (NNP) for which the IFR is working towards obtaining FDA approval.  Currently, it is only available via research whereas the other options described above are available and covered by insurance.  The NNP has given me active movement of my hand and grasps with much more force.  Now, I don’t need the universal cuff to hold anything as I have five different grasp patterns to do everything.

Take home point – there are multiple options out there for improving hand function and you don’t have to restrict yourself to using just one.  The more you utilize the more independent you’ll be, so…take advantage of everything!

Note, the ‘Hand Function After SCI’ video is part of the SCI Empowerment Project led by the University of Washington Department of Rehabilitation Medicine.

–Kim Anderson-Erisman, PhD