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Life of a PTA

Rusty Anatomy

Published July 25, 2014 2:24 PM by Allison Young

Last week my 10-year-old daughter pointed to her leg and asked "What's this bone called, Mom?" Specifically, she was pointing to a bony prominence on the lateral aspect of her lower leg and wondering why her friend had a "bigger bump" than herself. I quickly responded "Well, that's your..." and in that moment I realized two facts: I could name all the muscles associated with the lower extremity but I could not recall the name of that bone.

As a parent, when confronted with a question that I don't readily feel I can answer sufficiently, I try to spin a "teaching moment" for my kids and myself. In this case, "Let's look it up!" I told my daughter and her friend. As luck (or positional irony) would have it, I had recently unpacked a box of my physical therapy textbooks from school including a beloved original anatomy text that was sitting in the kitchen.

As I fished through the pages looking for the knee chapter, I remembered how arduous the anatomy class was for me back in my first semester of PTA school. The rote memorization of the OIAN of muscles and general frustration of trying to understand the shoulder joint. As if by osmosis of simply holding the anatomy book, I recalled the bony prominence in question: fibular head.

That's right -- I had completely forgotten the name for the fibula. More than disappointing considering I've been a PTA for a number of years now. I did a quick checklist of all the major bones of the extremities and spine that I could identify -- not too bad. But I wasn't going to pat myself on the back -- I forgot the fibula after all. The fact is my anatomy skills are rusty.

Just like I tell my patients, if you don't use it -- you'll lose it. In their case, I'm referring to the ability to walk if they don't attempt to stand, but the same can be applied to anything including anatomy knowledge. I simply don't treat many orthopedic patients in my SNF/long-term care facility. My focus is improving balance, transfers and gait safety. The majority of my patients are end-of-life and/or have an advanced dementia diagnosis. My approach and communication skills are strong because they have to be to work with that particular population. My recall of the carpal ligaments? Not so much.

I now have my old anatomy textbook at the ready at work, including a very helpful anatomy app on my phone that was reviewed and recommended by ADVANCE recently. I also plan on taking a few continuing ed courses that focus on specific joint rehab I feel the need to review. The "unidentified bump" debacle was an important reminder that I'll need to be responsible for maintaining my knowledge and skill level regardless of the setting where I work. As well, I won't have to pause when locating the fibular head anytime soon.

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1 comments

Allison,

You are not the only one this happens to! As a CI, I find myself needing to review more than the student does. I always explain to them is that you need to have a life long review of everything you learned while in school because you WILL forget a lot!

Mary July 28, 2014 4:49 PM

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