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The human hand is a wonderful gadget, wonderfully complex. But all those working parts are subject to misuse, overuse and the wear and tear of age. It’s enough to keep Erika Lewis very busy.
Lewis, assistant professor in the Physical Therapy Department, specializes in hands. Her most current research is a collaboration with UMass Medical and UMass Memorial to compare the outcome of treatment plans for trigger finger: whether cortisone injection, surgery or therapy. The research team includes Dr. Marci Jones, MD, and occupational therapist Lynn Fors.
“Trigger finger is a painful locking of one of the finger joints when flexed,” says Lewis. “It happens when a tendon in your finger develops a nodule near the base of the finger causing pain in the palm.”
The study follows patients over a six-month period and offers the option of a therapeutic intervention. Therapy includes using a splint on the offending joint, exercises to maintain range of motion and massage to reduce swelling.
While early results indicate patients improved under all treatments, the therapy group can avoid the potential side effects and pain of surgery or corticosteroid injection.
An aging population of baby boomers should keep Lewis engaged for some time to come. Whether from overuse or individual predisposition, many people suffer with hand problems: the weakness and numbness of carpal tunnel syndrome, trigger fingers, arthritic joints, injuries.
Lewis discovered hand therapy while on her first job, working in orthopedics at Brigham and Womens’ Hospital.
“I loved it. It’s very challenging and interesting. There’s always something new,” she says.
Lewis became a Certified hand Therapist (working with a private practice and at UMass Memorial), then joined the UMass Lowell physical therapy faculty in 2004.