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All Things Overhead

By: Sheila Borgen, PT

Life is full of action. We plan some activities, and others happen by living. But have you ever thought about how much you use your arms or legs? How often do you take for granted the ability to get up from a chair, walk to the kitchen, and get something to drink? I have, and it is remarkable how having even one limb not functioning to its fullest potential can cause havoc.

Let’s focus on the use of arms today. Even more specifically, let’s target activities requiring us to bring our arms over our heads, even briefly.

To complete ADLs, activities of daily living, the ability to reach overhead is of utmost necessity.

  1. Showering: Although bathing our body does not require us to reach up, washing our hair does. Lifting your arms high enough to place shampoo on top of your head and scrub your head requires a fairly reasonable shoulder range of motion, at least if you want the top of your head clean!

  2. Styling: When you finish showering, you will likely need to dry your hair with a towel or hairdryer, brush it, and then style it.

  3. Dressing: Reaching over your head is valuable to put a shirt or dress on.

Switching gears from personal care to home care and home tasks brings in different needs of reaching up.

  1. Cleaning: Have you ever tried to clean a fan or change a lightbulb without reaching your arms above your head?

  2. Fans: Many ceiling fans have different speed adjustments. Changing the speed is dependent upon reaching to pull a string. I venture to say that most pull cords aren’t dangling to chest level.

  3. Unloading a dishwasher: Luckily for us, most Americans have a dishwasher. This 1st world appliance is a true blessing. Unfortunately, our dishes don’t put themselves away. Instead, we must lift those cups and plates over our heads and place them in cupboards.

  4. Putting away groceries: After returning from the grocery store, we may set our purchases on the kitchen counter, but that is probably not their final resting place. Pantries have multiple shelves, low and high, that await our food items.

The final gear we will arrive at today is hobbies. Hobbies give us something to look forward to. They often provide us with self-worth. So, as the trend has been, let’s glance at a few hobbies that require overhead reaching.

  1. Pushing a child or grandchild on a swing.

  2. Baseball

  3. Basketball

  4. Tennis/Pickleball

  5. Catching a frisbee

So many more activities require overhead reaching that I have not touched on. But, from the few I have, the point is clear. Without the ability to use your arms fully, there are many limitations to your daily function. Even if you can give up some of those hobbies, can you give up getting dressed or combing your hair?

Many individuals have shoulder issues. It may seem to be a minor issue, but it is inevitable that without proper treatment, the small limitation will snowball into a much bigger one. Whatever problem you are facing now, don’t face it alone. Call Age Fit Physical Therapy and Wellness and let them help you wipe out limitations so you can reach for the moon!

Sheila is a freelance writer for physical health, mental health, and parenting. She has four exceptional children, one adopted from South Korea. She lives in Alabama with her husband and children. Sheila enjoys cheering her children on at archery tournaments, soccer games, and color guard performances. She has over 24 years of experience as a physical therapist with a special love for the senior population. Learn more about Sheila at

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