Reachers are light, weighing in at less than 1 lb. If any injury occurs from the use of a reacher, then the weight of the product will not be the cause. It usually happens as a result of the user’s movements and interactions with other items of varying weight capacities. Here are a few examples in which improper body use can result in injury:
- Using a reacher against medical precautions: Take a look at the following three post-surgical scenarios that can lead up to additional injury when precautions are not maintained:
Pamela is an 83 year-old female who sustained a fall in her home which resulted in multiple spinal fractures. Fortunately, she did not lose any functional movement or sensation as a result of her injuries. She did, however, go through surgery in which the doctors placed a rod through her middle (thoracic) spine. She was sent home with her spouse wearing what is called a TLSO brace (thoracic, lumbar, sacral orthotic) or back brace which she is instructed to wear for 8 weeks for ALL out-of-bed activities. Additionally, she must strictly follow what are called BLT precautions (no bending, no lifting, and no twisting). In her case, the doctor said she can’t lift anything heavier than 5 lbs.
Reachers are created to eliminate the need for excessive bending, but if the reacher is too short or the item is too far away then you would be amazed how people will move anyway. Despite Pamela owning a reacher, she still has to avoid completely bending at the hips, twisting from side to side, and lifting items heavier than 4 lbs with the reacher (note, the reacher itself is at the most 1 lb.). The majority of TLSO patients can remove the back brace while in bed, but still need to be extra cautious about how their reaching while laying down…especially if a reacher falls into the equation.
Candice is a 54 year-old female who recently went in for a Right total shoulder surgery. She has been instructed to wear a combined brace and sling for the next six weeks and avoid any and all lifting until the doctor approves weight-bearing activities. The patient is allowed to remove the sling for showering only. The only movement allowed in her right arm is gentle, passive ranging of the elbow and wrist with the assist of the left hand. The last complication is that Candice was recently diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s disease with Lewy bodies.
For anyone who is familiar with Parkinson’s, if the disease is paired with lewy bodies this means that dementia symptoms come with it. Candice might be subject to simply forgetting what her shoulder precautions are and attempt to move the right shoulder anyway. If her memory is still intact, she might be well aware of her precautions and stick with using a reacher in her left hand if necessary.
Albert is a 55 year-old male who was discharged from the hospital after receiving a left total hip replacement. The patient is only allowed to place 50% of his body weight through his left leg with the assist of a walker. Albert is also required to follow strict movement precautions: no crossing of the legs, no bending past 90 degrees at the hips, and no pivoting on the left leg.
A total hip replacement requires a painful healing process for several weeks. The patient will probably be using a reacher, a dressing stick, and a sock aid just to get dressed in the morning since the patient is not allowed to bend very far at his hips. As long as Albert maintains his movement precautions, using a reacher should not be any trouble.
- Wrong trigger grip: Triggers for reachers vary from single-finger use to full-hand use. Medline Platinum reachers tend to require a full-hand use with a stiffer pull, which may not be appropriate for individuals with arthritic hands. If an individual frequently relies on their reacher, having the wrong trigger could result in repetitive use injuries to the hands and finger joints.
- Improper body mechanics: This also includes improper measurement of the reacher you purchased. If you bought the reacher to eliminate bending at the hips or squatting down to the floor, then the reacher should be long enough to do so. If you find that you are still squatting in order for the reacher to grab an item, then the reacher is not long enough. The same goes for bending at the hips in order to avoid unwanted back pain.
Appropriately positioning your body in approximation with the item in which you want to reach for is also essential. Avoid twisting your upper body around in order to lift an item behind you. Just turn your whole body around to reach for the item and to avoid unnecessary strain to your spine and torso. Additionally, acknowledge your foundational position and whether or not it would be more beneficial to you to pick up the item in standing (if you are capable) or in sitting. If you are sitting, then you lessen the likelihood of falling when reaching for the item. It also reduces recruitment of muscles you don’t need to use to grab the item which decreases fatigue.
- Lifting heavy items: Do not attempt to lift anything heavier than 5 lbs with a reacher. Not only will it warp or break the reacher…it could result in joint or muscle injury to yourself. The longer the reacher with a combination of a heavy item, the more likely you will hurt yourself or strain your body. If the item you are trying to lift forces you to incorporate the assist of the other hand, then it is likely that the item is too heavy.
If you recently had surgery, please consult with your surgeon or primary surgeon if you have any confusion about movement precautions and whether or not using a reacher is appropriate for you at this time.