Hands Up for Improved Function

SASCA, the Southern African Spinal Cord Association recently held their “Extending the Limits of Tetraplegic Functionality” congress. Prof. Gerhard Sormann (sponsored by Jam Rehab, Muelmed, Pretoria) was a guest speaker at the congress.

Adjunct Professor in Bionic Surgery at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University, Australia and Director of the Wolfe Research Organisation, Professor Sormann is also the Founder and Medical Director of the Quadriplegic Hand Foundation established to fund facilities at the Austin Medical Centre for the treatment of tetraplegic patients. The Foundation also supports research into bionic and other projects for people with paralysis. Prof. Sormann has spent over 20 years improving hand function.

At a workshop, hosted at Muelmed, for doctors and therapists working with persons with upper limb paralysis, Professor Sormann discussed methods for improving function. Five patients were assessed and procedures discussed that could improve their arm and hand function. Prof Sormann avoids single procedures such as tricep function repairs preferring a process of reconstructive operations to improve wrist and hand function and elbow straightening. The procedures facilitate transfers and enable daily functions such as dressing, gripping, picking up objects, eating and grooming.

Careful assessment and examination establishes which procedures best fit the person concerned and their lifestyle. Arm muscles, function and strength are measured; wants and expectations considered before the procedures are decided on. Parts of muscles replace weak or paralysed muscle. Extra muscle may also be used to do other functions such as moving the fingers, thumb or wrist. Prof Sorman suggests operating on the worst arm first to boost the confidence of the patient. He also recommends that both arms be operated on but with recovery periods between surgeries. Splints and braces may need to be worn and some independence may be lost for a period after surgery as the body heals and adjusts to using the muscles in a new way.

The workshop prompted Muelmed’s Dr Theron, with colleagues from the University of Pretoria, to establish an upper limb clinic on the last Friday of every month in Pretoria. Examinations and assessments will be conducted by a team of doctors, physiotherapists and occupational therapists and Professor Sormann will be consulted on each and every case.


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