It’s all in the wrist…

wristYour wrist and hands are home to more small bones, joints and ligaments than you may realize. These joints can become inflamed and ligaments injured in the most instinctive of activities.

Did you know that most wrist injuries are either the result of an impact or the byproduct of repetitive use (e.g. carpel tunnel syndrome, tendinitis)? The keys to look for in wrist injuries are swelling, lingering pain, and sometimes tingling or numbness – all symptoms we’d like to avoid!  Try to build these habits into your activities to avoid overuse injuries:

1.   Build strength
Repetitive motions – from playing an instrument, to swinging a tennis racquet, to typing on a keyboard – place strain on both the tendons and ligaments in our hands and wrists. But if your surrounding muscles are weak, wear and tear on tendons is amplified, leading to injury and pain. Focus on building muscle strength in your forearms and resist the temptation to overextend your wrist or rely on smaller muscles of the fingers and hands.

2.   Be flexible
This means maintaining a good range of motion, participating in a proper cool down after exercise, including stretching for all activities – even at your desk or after gardening. But it also means, varying your schedule and varying both the frequency and duration of your activities to allow your other joints and muscles to share the load.

3.   Take breaks
This may seem obvious, and many natural breaks are built into sports and exercise, but when is the last time you pushed back from your desk at work and took a walk or rested your hands and wrists? Staying in the same position for extended periods of time is downright unhealthy. A good rule of thumb is a 10 minute break for every hour your work. This doesn’t mean you have to stop working, just switch to another task that uses other joints or skills.

In sports, there are far too many opportunities to over do it, like training too frequently or aggressively, or by using poor form and putting extra strain in the wrong place. Talking breaks forces you to do three essential things:  rest, stretch (see #2), and assess. Assess how you are using your hands and wrists, and make sure you have proper form. OSHA offers several tips on proper form while working at a desk.

If you are already feeling pain, or have noticeable and sustained swelling, it’s probably time for an evaluation. Your doctor will help you find the right treatment option, depending on your symptoms, lifestyle and other factors. Treatments for overuse injury range from Immobilization, to rehabilitation, to surgery.

Success Story: Ben Nilsson

Ben-N_skiingAt age 59, Ben Nilsson has seen more action in the mountains of Colorado than most people have in a lifetime. He’s been hiking, alpine skiing, and fly-fishing for decades, and even won a spot as an alternate to compete on the Loveland Ski Area demo team, which competed in the International competition at Aspen Mountain.

Nilsson is a full-time ski instructor at Loveland Ski Resort, and he’s skied thousands of vertical feet, both on groomed terrain and alpine – which involves hiking backcountry areas to ski down in pristine, untouched powder. “Last year I was able to extend the season all the way past the July 4th holiday, when I hiked Mt Epworth and raced in a recreational ski race,” says Nilsson. “I’ve been a very active person all my life. Baseball was my real love until I was 21 and could not continue to compete.”

These accomplishments alone are enough to consider Mr. Nilsson a success story, but all of this recent activity was done after not one – but four major surgeries.

Any lifelong athlete knows that strain on joints is inevitable as we age. In July of 2011, Dr. Andrew Motz performed a partial replacement, and removed a bone chip out of on Nilsson’s left knee. At the same time, Nilsson opted to have a meniscus procedure on his right knee. “I had some wear and tear on my knees, and was able to recover,” says Nilsson. He worked hard at physical therapy and was highly motivated to get back to activity. He completed his first hike to the Continental Divide by the end of August – just over a month after the procedures – and skied again the last week of October.

That same year, Nilsson taught 50 days at Loveland and was selected as an alternate on the Loveland Ski Area Demo team, which included the Director of the ski school, and four Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) trainers. As an alternate Nilsson supported the team in numerous days of drills and practices. They practiced day and night at Keystone, and while the team did not make it to the podium, they had good results at the World Synchronized Championship 2013 in Aspen.

For two solid seasons, Nilsson skied actively and taught full time. Then, in April of 2013, he was hit on the slopes in a painful and devastating skier-to-skier collision. He broke his left fibia and crushed his left ankle. Nilsson was transported off the mountain by ski patrol. He endured three complex procedures from mid April to the end of August – all performed by Dr. Motz. Despite cables and bolts in his left ankle and a plate in his left leg, Ben taught his first lesson of the 2013/2014 season on October 18, and continued to teach full time the entire season.

“I don’t know what I would’ve done without Dr. Motz’s expertise,” says Nilsson. “In addition to his excellent surgical skills – the proof is in the pudding on those – it’s his manner that I appreciate most. He’s very calm, kind and straight forward, which always makes me feel like I am in very good hands.”

Nilsson was admittedly impatient in recovery, approaching it as more of a workout than physical therapy. Dr. Motz helped him adjust the regimen subtly to reflect Nilsson’s athleticism and motivation, but still maintain moderate activity while his injuries healed.

“I am just a guy who loves the mountains, and I have many friends who I admire who have similar or more inspiring stories who I hold in high regard. I consider myself average in ability but make up with my passion to live my life as I do in the high country,” says Nilsson. “I can’t think of a better place to be active than Colorado. And knowing that I have experts like Dr. Motz to keep me on my feet – literally – means I can keep my career and my favorite ways to be active going strong for many years to come.”

Have a success story you’d like to share? E-mail us! If your story is selected, you can be entered to win a custom success story t-shirt courtesy of Advanced Orthopedics.