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J Hand Ther. 2000 Oct-Dec;13(4):289-301.

Treatment effectiveness for patients with a history of repetitive hand use and focal hand dystonia: a planned, prospective follow-up study.

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  • 1Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science, UCSF/SFSU Graduate Program in Physical Therapy, University of California-San Francisco, 94143, USA.


Recent studies show that rapid, nearly simultaneous, stereotypical repetitive fine motor movements can degrade the sensory representation of the hand and lead to a loss of normal motor control with a target task, referred to as occupational hand cramps or focal hand dystonia. The purpose of this prospective follow-up study was to determine whether symptomatic patients in jobs demanding high levels of repetition could be relieved of awkward, involuntary hand movements following sensory discriminative retraining complemented by a home program of sensory exercises, plus traditional posture, relaxation, mobilization, and fitness exercises. Twelve patients participated in the study. They all had occupational hand cramps, as diagnosed by a neurologist. Each patient was evaluated by a trained, independent research assistant before treatment and three to six months after treatment, by use of a battery of sensory, motor, physical, and functional performance tests. Care was provided by a physical therapist or a supervised physical therapist student in an outpatient clinic. Patients were asked to stop performing the target task and to come once a week for supervised treatment that included 1) heavy schedules of sensory training with and without biofeedback to restore the sensory representation of the hand, and 2) instructions in stress-free hand use, mirror imagery, mental rehearsal, and mental practice techniques designed to stop the abnormal movements and facilitate normal hand control. Patients were instructed in therapeutic exercises to be performed in the home to improve postural alignment, reduce neural tension, facilitate relaxation, and promote cardiopulmonary fitness. Following the defined treatment period, all patients were independent in activities of daily living, and all but one patient returned to work. Significant gains were documented in motor control, motor accuracy; sensory discrimination, and physical performance (range of motion, strength, posture, and balance). This descriptive study that includes patients with occupation-related focal hand dystonia provides evidence that aggressive sensory discriminative training complemented by traditional fitness exercises to facilitate musculoskeletal health can improve sensory processing and motor control of the hand.

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