Overuse Issues for People with an Upper Limb Difference
by Amber Henson, on Feb 22, 2021
One of the reasons we recommend that people with congenital and acquired limb differences get a prosthetic device is because the human body works best with two arms. That isn’t to say everyone has to get a prosthetic device or that we disagree with those who choose not to get them. We understand there are many different factors that may lead to someone not wanting or not being able to get a prostheses.
But the fact remains that bodies are symmetrical, and each side benefits from having an opposite side. When the other side is unavailable or is fitted with a prosthetic device that does not give proper assistance, the sound side of the body may have to do most of the effort and can suffer from overuse issues, or overuse syndrome.
This can be a problem for people with shoulder disarticulations (the loss or limb difference of the entire arm and their shoulder blade) all the way down to finger amputations/differences.
Overuse issues can also occur on the same side as the limb difference. For example, when someone is missing even a single digit there is a loss of gripping surface area and a loss of hand strength. Trying to open a jar with one less finger means the rest of the fingers and palm need to shift their normal position to cover for the lost digit and put in more work. This can lead to muscle cramps and, long-term, the onset of arthritis, tendinitis, or carpal tunnel syndrome.
Our patient, Taylor, experienced issues with both sides of her body after a work accident. Taylor lost her right hand below the elbow. Using an activity-specific device like the one in the photo below allows Taylor to improve body mechanics and muscle alignment and decrease her risk of overuse syndrome.
The inability to use an upper limb to assist with bimanual tasks also can lead to back and neck issues. Max Okun, a congenital amputee, is an example of someone who, as a child, abandoned their prosthesis, but later found that, because of overuse issues, he needed to be fit with a prosthetic device again. He was experiencing back pain and decided that an exercise regimen might help. At the gym, he found that: “Without the prosthesis, your shoulder wants to do all the work, since you have no forearm – eventually my back wound up getting worse.” You can watch Max talk about his journey in his patient profile video.
Sometimes people find overuse issues to be preferable to the discomfort of wearing their prosthetic device. To that we say that there is no reason why wearing a prosthetic device should be uncomfortable. Learn more about why we think silicone sockets are the ideal answer for those who would like to wear a prosthesis all day long.
If you think that pain you might be experiencing in the affected or sound side of your body might be related to overuse issues, please don’t hesitate to contact us. If you yourself learned that you were experiencing overuse issues and used prosthetic devices, or another method, to correct the problem, please share your story in the comment section below!
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