Meet OT Sue Heimke: The History of Occupational Therapy

As we continue our celebration of National Occupational Therapy Month, we interviewed Occupational Therapist and Certified Hand Therapist Sue Heimke in our North Kansas City, Missouri clinic.

Meet OT Sue Heimke

Meet Susan Heimke, an OT/CHT out of our North Kansas City clinic who explains the roots of occupational therapy and demonstrates how she uses Graston instruments to help workers recover from injury. #ARCPTplus #OTmonth

Posted by ARC Physical Therapy+ on Monday, April 23, 2018

Sue has been an occupational therapist since the early 1990s when she got her degree from the University of the of Kansas in 1994. She received her CHT certification in 2008 and has been working for ARC Physical Therapy+ since 2010.

On her desk sits this quote:

“Man, through the use of his hands, as they are energized by the mind and will can influence the state of his own health.”

-Mary Reilly, 1961 Slagle Lecture

This quote resonates with Sue because she sees her work as an Occupational Therapist as an opportunity to approach therapy from a holistic standpoint.

In her interview, she gave us an overview of the fascinating history of occupational therapy:

  • Occupational therapy started in the mid 1700s. A Quaker developed it as a way to improve morale by keeping people busy in hospitals after injuries. The movement or philosophy of keeping people busy while they were injured gained momentum.
  • In the 1880s, the arts and crafts movement began in the US as a counterbalance to the industrial revolution. This was a way for people who were laborers in the Industrial Revolution to create something of value with their hands.
  • During and after World War I and World War II, there was an impetus to create diversions for patients hospitalized for rehabilitation. Patients who had daily activities and engaged in arts and crafts needed less medicine and recovered more quickly. As technology increased there were more trends in providing prosthetics, allowing for people to be more independent.
  • The first OT Society meeting was in 1917.
  • In 1921, they changed the name to American Occupational Therapy Association.
  • Last year was Occupational Therapy’s 100th anniversary.

Sue got into occupational therapy almost 25 years ago through an interest in a different kind of therapy–art therapy. However, she quickly learned that art therapists don’t get compensated as well as occupational or physical therapists so she decided to take a COTA (Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant) course at Penn Valley Metropolitan Community College. During an observation with a Registered Occupational Therapist (ROT), the ROT encouraged Sue to go on to get her baccalaureate, which she did.

The Importance of Warming Up Before Activity

As the weather starts to warm up this spring and people become more active, there are some arm injuries to be aware of, such as lateral epicondylitis, also known as golf elbow or tennis elbow.

Sue recommends being proactive and stretching before playing to prevent injury. Here are a few exercises you can to do warm up:

  • Flexion and Extension – Rest your arm on a table so that your wrist and hand hang over the edge. Make a fist with your hand, bend your wrist so that the hand goes upwards. Hold for ten seconds. Move the wrist back down into a resting position and hold for five seconds. Repeat ten times.
  • Hand Flip – Sit with your knees at a ninety-degree angle. Place your forearm and wrist on your thigh, palm facing downward. Flip the hand over so that the palm is now facing up and hold for five seconds. Flip it back down and hold for five more seconds. Repeat this action ten times.
  • Radial and Ulnar Deviation – Extend your arm straight out in front of you, level with your shoulder. Point your fingers upward so you are looking at the back of your hand. Slowly bend the wrist to one side, then the other, bending as far as you can go, without rotating the arm. Hold it on each side for five to ten seconds. Repeat this action ten times.

The Use of Graston Tools to Treat Tendons

Sue uses a variety of tools when treating overstressed tendons in therapy sessions. She uses Graston instruments to treat patients with soft-tissue injuries and range of motion dysfunction. While these instruments can look intimidating, they simply provide a deep and gentle tissue massage. The tools help create a more uniform pressured massage to prevent further injury or damage to the tissue. Some of the curves and edges of the tools are designed to provide therapy to specific body parts such as stretching the thumb web or working on scar tissue.

Treating Lymphedema through Therapy

In addition to being a CHT, Sue is certified to treat lymphedema, a swelling of the lymph nodes, typically due to breast cancer treatment. The lymphatic system is a network of tissues and organs that help rid the body of toxins, waste and other unwanted materials. The primary function of the lymphatic system is to transport lymph, a fluid containing infection-fighting white blood cells, throughout the body. When the lymph nodes are damaged or removed because of cancer treatment, the uncirculated lymphatic fluid turns thick and can start causing scarring.

Treatment for lymphedema started within the realm of massage therapy and is threefold:

  • Meticulous skin care
  • Manual lymphatic mobilization
  • Bandaging and eventually garment wearing

After becoming interested in lymphedema treatment, Sue spearheaded a lymphedema program with one of the nearby hospitals and provided care in an outpatient clinic. She received a two-week training in Florida to get certified and a few years later, got a job in a lymphedema clinic.

If you are in need occupational therapy on your upper extremity, contact Sue Heimke in our North Kansas City, Missouri clinic at (816) 241-2131.

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