How the age of specialization may be holding you back from healing your arm, shoulder, hand, or neck

In this age of specialization, there are many hand therapists and hand therapies, many therapists who specialize with what is called the upper extremity. There are special therapies for rotator cuff injuries of the shoulder, for elbow injuries, for muscle tears, as well as therapies for the general upper extremity of your arms.

With all this specialization and detailed knowledge of how these body parts work, why is it that more people are suffering from injuries and are taking overly large doses of opiates to deal with their pains? Well, there’s a good reason. Perhaps it is the overspecialization itself, which makes it more difficult to address how the whole body operates in an action. Perhaps it is time for a more generalized approach.

You may be suffering from some of these injuries and challenges and meeting with limited relief from all the specialized therapies. My approach is to work with the body and mind as a whole, not discrete body parts with specialized but limited solutions.

I want to help you improve the functionality of your hands, arms, shoulder and neck by involving your whole body in the process and, most importantly, your brain.

Do you think it is possible to hold something in your hand and pick it up just with your upper extremities? To lift something up, the weight has to go down through not only our backs, but also our pelvis and legs. In other words, to use our arms in the real world requires the use of our whole body. If that weren’t the case, every time you picked up a frying pan, you’d simply tip forwards. For every pound you carry in front of yourself, your back and your legs have to work to stop you from falling forwards.

But the issue of having functionality from our upper extremities is bigger than simple dynamics. To fully integrate all these different areas of your body and coordinate our body to perform actions in the world, we need a brain and in fact, the complete integration of the neuro-orthopedic body.  And even more, numerous studies on grip strength show that one of the key factors that will improve or fatigue grip strength is the condition of one’s heart and blood pressure.  We can have no strength in our upper extremities without that.  

Key factors for our muscles to be able to move us and for our organs to support those movements are our brain and our skeleton.  Nothing can move without a brain and a skeleton.

Since any issues you are facing with your hands, arms, shoulders and neck involve more than just those discrete body parts, perhaps it’s time to develop a more generalized field of inquiry and how to improve the full use of all of ourselves.

A baseball pitcher with a shoulder injury will of course have limitations.  If these limitations can be addressed therapeutically, great. But what if the pitcher could learn variations in throwing the ball that would not further damage the shoulder but could actually help heal the shoulder?  For example, learning to move from the back leg to the front leg and accelerate the trunk over the standing leg reduces the need to develop so much acceleration largely in the shoulder. In which case, learning to throw a ball with a better understanding of whole body use requires a different kind of analysis of motion and a deeper understanding of what a pitcher needs to learn to use their throws to help the tissue heal.

This approach is not a new notion. There are attempts to do this by sports coaches involved in different sports from all over the world, but it does require the skill to perceive what’s needed for each individual to learn to improve.

This is the kind of evaluation, strategic approach to healing, and improved coordination that most of my clients need regardless of how local their injury feels or how locally they’ve been conditioned to compartmentalize their bodies.

-Frank Wildman, PhD