The saying goes, “April showers bring May flowers.” As an avid gardener, I look forward to April as the warmer spring weather leads to flowering dogwoods, the beautiful pink blooms of the redbud trees, cheery yellow daffodils popping up, and the return of hummingbirds. I also love April because it brings Cadbury Eggs, chocolate bunnies, backyard BBQs, baseball (GO CARDS!), and National Occupational Therapy Month!
National OT Month originated in 1980 to coincide with the OT annual conference and expo. In April, we look forward to promoting our profession and increase awareness in our communities of what we do. By definition, Occupational Therapy practitioners seek to help people of all ages develop the skills they need for success in every day life where they live, learn, work and play. As an OT/CHT or Certified Hand Therapist, I have chosen to specialize in rehabilitation of the hand and upper extremity. Why? Because we use our hands for nearly everything! Whether it’s picking up a bag of groceries, writing our name, opening a door, or reaching out for that morning cup of coffee – our hands are critical to complete activities of daily living. As such, it’s important not to take these anatomical blessings for granted. Taking care of your hands and your body will decrease stress and strain on your muscles and joints. What better time than spring- the season of renewal and growth- to start taking good care of yourself?
Here are a few ways to promote your health and wellness this spring:
- Get moving! There are many types of physical activity from swimming to running, walking and dancing. Being active does more than strengthen your muscles to support joints. Regular exercise regulates the body and brain. It has been shown to improve mood, decrease depression and anxiety. It doesn’t matter how intense your workout is. Even light exercise has been shown to reduce risk of chronic disease, reduce pain, and increase energy levels. So, get out there, get moving, and improve your health!
- We are what we eat! Maintaining a healthy weight reduces stress on your joints. For example, the pressure in your knee joints is 5-6 times your body weight when you walk. For that reason alone, it’s important to keep your body weight within a healthy range. Do what works best for you- whether it’s counting calories, keto, clean eating or watching your carbs- a healthy diet means a healthy body!
- Sleep tight! Missing out on the recommended 7-9 hours of shut-eye does more than make you feel groggy. Science has linked poor slumber with health problems such as weight gain, weakened immune system, mood changes, and decreased concentration. Sleep is imperative to renew and revitalize the body.
- Pace yourself! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve pushed through something- most recently raking leaves we neglected in our yard last fall- and pay for it with aches and pains for days after. I could have avoided this by doing what I preach to people every day. Change activities regularly especially when doing heavy jobs. Take short work breaks whether it’s at work, mowing the lawn, or vacuuming the house and go back at it when you feel rested. By pacing yourself, you can keep going for longer while taking care of your body!
- Use less effort! As OT’s, we see gadgets galore- from electric can openers, to built up pens, to sock aids. There are many tools and tips for protecting your joints, whether big or small, out there. Using things like non-slip jar openers will reduce stress on your hands. Even something simple like a rolling bag to transport your laptop to work can diminish strain on your muscles. If you must lift heavy objects, use two hands. Bend your knees to bring your body closer to the object rather than leaning over to prevent injury to your back. Work smarter not harder!
These are just a few ideas to renew and rejuvenate as the weather warms up this month. Stay tuned for a more in depth look at joint protection in the coming weeks!
About the Author: Jennifer Hoffman, OTR/L, CHT graduated as an occupational therapist in 1998 from the University of Missouri. Since receiving the highly prestigious certification as a hand therapist (CHT) in 2005, Jennifer has been managing upper extremity injuries, surgeries and conditions exclusively in a variety of outpatient settings, earning the trust of many top orthopedic and plastic surgeons in the area. She is known in the area as a caring and compassionate therapist. In her spare time, she loves running and has completed the Boston marathon four times. She also loves gardening and spending time outdoors.