Monday, March 10, 2014

A New Look at Splint Therapy

Cynthia Garris often recommended splint therapy to patients that would come to her for occupational therapy. She was well aware of the benefits and value of splint therapy, and had been practicing it on her patients for years. Splint therapy is often used in conjunction with occupational therapy to help individuals suffering from short term trauma or lifelong debilitating diseases in order to continue to have normal use of their hands and joints.
In 1974, Garris was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis and was forced to reevaluate the current technology used in splint therapy. Traditional splints are made of metal or plastic and, Garris would soon learn, are often too cumbersome for long term everyday use.
After years of prescribing splint use to her patients, Garris finally had to wear one herself after her diagnosis. She was presented with a problem she didn't even know existed until she began splint therapy. Common plastic splints, though smaller and more custom fitting than larger metal splints, were not durable enough to be worn for more than a few weeks without breaking or losing their form. For people suffering short term trauma, these splints serve their purpose well enough. But for Garris and others suffering from debilitating joint problems like arthritis, hyperextension, or lateral instability, splints must be worn every day in order to have relatively normal joint use; plastic splints just don't hold up.


Garris drew inspiration from the work of jewelers, especially looking at the process of making of rings. She used analogous thinking to parallel decorative rings to practical finger splints. Gentner et al. (1997) discuss Kepler's use of analogy for discovery, whereas Garris used analogy to expand upon preexisting ideas. She saw that the metals used in jewelry making are malleable enough to create a custom fit, while still being strong enough to hold their shape and remain durable. She expanded on the idea of wearing rings for decorative purposes by making them into functional splints as well--creating the Silver Ring (SIRIS) splint.
The SIRIS Splints are also an example of creative problem finding and solving. Garris solved the simple problem of needing a more durable splint by replacing the plastic with metal, but she also solved cosmetic problems as well. Many of her patients would say that they did not like the look of the plastic splints (or were embarrassed by them), and therefore would not wear them as often as the therapist prescribed. Splint therapy does not work and cannot provide relief if the splint is not worn. Garris created a splint that was both aesthetically pleasing and medically effective. The splints are entirely customizable, in both fit and style. She offers splints in both sterling silver and gold, and even offers specialty splints with precious stones embedded in them. By giving patients the option to customize their splint, Garris ensures that they have a splint they are happy to wear.
When creating SIRIS splints, Garris addressed joint problems that could arise from arthritis as well as a wide variety of other joint and muscle problems in the hand and wrist. Her splints are also used by artists and musicians to encourage finger stability and strength when creating artwork or playing instruments. The SIRIS splints offer a more practical option in general, because their jewelry like design allows them to be worn with gloves, fit through sleeves, and can be worn when washing hands.
Like many creative personalities (as described by Csikszentmihalyi), Garris proved stubborn when in the process of finding a splint to wear after her diagnosis. Upon the realization that current technology in splint therapy wouldn't fulfill her needs, she took it upon herself to create a splint that would. When discussing the invention of SIRIS splints, Garris remains modest. She is proud of her work, yet is never completely satisfied. She sees the success of her splints on her patients, but is continuously working on new models and improving on others. She also works to make her measurement system even more accurate.
Many therapists acknowledge the benefits of splint therapy; it reduces pain and inflammation while offering joint stability and protection. Cynthia Garris took splint therapy one step further by making it more appealing to patients because of the comfort and style in which she presents her splints. Therapists often find it difficult to encourage their patients to continue therapy, especially in cases where the therapy would be lifelong (as is the case with Rheumatoid Arthritis). Through analogous thinking and problem solving, Garris was able to create a splint that not only alleviates pain, but also betters patient well-being and self-image.

The SIRIS website provides more images and information about the different kinds of splints that the company offers. It also has a listing of the different problems addressed and the splints associated with them.
The University of Southampton published research on the effectiveness of the splints compared to traditional splinting methods.
An occupational therapist offers insight on the benefits of splint therapy in general, and the different joint and muscle problems that it addresses.

1 comment:

  1. Having never really looked in to finger and hand splints, this whole concept fascinated me. I definitely spent a lot of time on the SIRIS website examining all of their different models and what they are intended to correct. I think that as an OT, Garris was in a prime position to realize that she could create a line of splints that were continuously functional, but were also not unsightly (in fact, I really loved the appearance of a lot of these splints). Garris managed to really fulfill a desire to treat the whole patient. By creating these splints, she helped ensure that people would complete therapy and regain full use of their hands, and she also managed to create pieces that may actually bolster someone's self confidence. I'm now wondering if there's a way to make other casts/larger splints equally as beautiful as the ones Garris has created for fingers.


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