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Building confidence and learning new skills – how vocational work supports rehab



St Andrew's

“Being at Workbridge gives the person a sense of purpose. It provides them with an aim to achieve. They can stand back and be proud of what they’ve done,” says Tom, a service user accessing Workbridge at St Andrew’s. 

Based within the St Andrew’s Northampton hospital site, and integrating public facing retail offerings, Workbridge provides a vocational pathway for people living with brain injuries, mental illness, learning disabilities or autism. 

The centre operates to provide training and social opportunities for people living in the community and within the inpatient setting of St Andrew’s and here people can learn new skills through the array of activities on offer, supported by vocational skills instructors. 

Departments ranging from ceramics to woodwork, horticulture to catering, allow service users to learn both life and work skills, building confidence and social capability in the process.

The products made in the workshop sessions are sold in the public-facing garden centre, charity and coffee shop where service users can also work, meeting the public and learning retail skills.

Workbridge has helped hundreds of people to gain or regain skills and build their confidence and independence over the 41 years since it was established. 

Tom, who accesses the centre as a community based service user is a regular and an enthusiastic advocate of the service. 

“I’m sure everyone benefits from being here, but that’s quite subjective and down to the individual, but for me the consistency it gives me has been really important,” he says. 

Having sustained two brain injuries – the first in 2001 as the result of an assault and another in 2008 while cycling – Tom is now rebuilding his life with the support of Workbridge, where he attends textiles sessions and volunteers in the charity shop. 

“I know I need structure as a result of my head injury and Workbridge gives that. It is an incredible community and there is a real family vibe. It has also helped with my patience… Ive developed more patience over the years. This is a non-intrusive environment but friendly and that has helped.”

For Neelam too – a young mother who needs ongoing care and who is currently a patient in St Andrew’s Brain Injury services after a tumour on her pituitary gland left her with a range of needs – her participation in ceramics sessions at Workbridge are an important aspect of her recovery. 

“In ceramics, at first they had a jar already made and to start with I just had to clean and tidy it up. But slowly they gave me more jobs and responsibilities because I was capable,” she says. 

“Now, I feel I am confident in meeting new people. I am working and have an important job to do and I feel more responsible; because what I am making is going to be sold to the public I have to be really careful. I try to give 100 per cent with any painting or modelling, I go there and I always try my best.”

For both Tom and Neelam, their positive experiences at Workbridge mean they now hope that one day they can find paid employment.

“Before my brain surgery, I was working in a multi-national company as a quality assurance officer. However, after my surgery, I was literally doing nothing and was just in hospital,” says Neelam.

“Now I feel my life has totally changed. I have hope that I can work again.”

Tom continues: “I need an employer with good understanding of head injury and my strengths and weaknesses. I think Workbridge would be an incredible employer for that and I could be a pathway example for other service users. 

“I am quite engaged and sociable so would love to be a service users’ representative and a voice for other people.” 

For the multi-disciplinary team that support patients on St Andrew’s brain injury wards and the vocational skills instructors based at Workbridge who work with service users from the community and hospital patients, they see first-hand the significant benefits that vocational opportunities bring.

“Everyone has different levels and abilities and things they are able to progress towards, but Workbridge offers opportunities for everyone. It’s an amazing example of what our service can provide,” says Gemma Thornton, an occupational therapist in the St Andrew’s Brain Injury service who works closely in supporting Neelam. 

“With Neelam, she is a very creative person, and I know she puts a great deal of effort into making something which will go on sale, in her mind it has to be perfect. 

“She has made some great progress with her skills and confidence through ceramics, in addition to the excellent progress we’ve made with her moods and frustration in our wider therapy work. 

Louise, a senior vocational skills instructor who works closely with Tom, adds: “Tom really enjoys the structure of attending Workbridge as he feels it gives him a purpose for the day. He’s given most things a try from upcycling, making bags for the mors bag project – –  to sanding and painting. All of these projects help with fine motor skills and Tom is certainly an asset within the department.”

Incorporating work back into their lives following their brain injury has certainly been an important part of Tom and Naleem’s recovery. 

As Tom says: “Vocational activities provide an individual with more meaning in their life, that distract from more troubling elements they may be living with, and they will also provide transferable skills which people can deploy in other areas of their life.”


Osteoarthritis: breaking the cycle

Medical technology company Ottobock shares its expertise on approaches to the condition.




Sponsored feature

Why is Cartilage Important?

Bones that come in contact with other bones are covered by cartilage at their contact points. Cartilage does not have blood vessels – it is supplied with nutrients through movement of the joint. That’s why regular exercise is so important!

Cartilage ensures that the joint surfaces move against each other in the most efficient way and with little friction. It absorbs shock, cushioning the joint, and distributes the forces acting on the joint.

If cartilage is damaged and its gliding properties are affected, it can no longer serve its purpose and the joints range of movement can become limited.

Typical Progression of Osteoarthritis

When osteoarthritis of the knee develops due to joint malalignment, an accident, advancing age, obesity or excessive strain, the damaged cartilage is no longer able to properly fulfil its function.

This results in pain and re­duced mobility. The affected patient instinctively assumes a relieving posture to reduce strain on the knee.

However, this often leads to new prob­lems in other places, such as the hip, and reduces the supply of nutrients to the cartilage, for which movement is required – sparking a vicious circle.

The cartilage develops cracks and begins to break down. At the same time, the bone thickens at the site of the damage.

When the cartilage layer is completely worn away, the affected bones come into direct contact and rub against each other causing joint pain and inflammation.

The thickest joint cartilage is located behind the kneecap (patella). This is an area of high stress. Osteoarthritis occurring in this area is known as patellafemoral osteoarthritis

Signs and Symptoms

There are several common symptoms that signal knee osteoarthritis. They can occur individually or together. However, with the initial onset, you may not notice any of these symptoms

When symptoms appear they usually occur in the following order:

  • Cracking in the joint
  • Pain during load bearing activities, such as carrying a heavy object
  • Pain during every day activities, such as climbing the stairs
  • Reduced mobility
  • Swelling and inflammation

Non-Invasive Treatments

Joint specific exercises: with regular exercise mobility can be maintained and muscle strengthened, ensuring the cartilage is supplied with the nutrients it needs.

Temperature: with acute inflammation, cold relieves pain and reduces swelling. Heat relaxes the muscles and tendons and increases the flow of nutrients. Heat may only be applied when the joint is not inflamed.

Creams: various over the counter products are available at your local pharmacy including gels and creams that can help relieve pain.

Orthopaedic devices (braces and supports): these are applied externally to the knee, reducing pain and improving mobility.

Lifestyle: living a healthy lifestyle can help to combat osteoarthritis. A healthy diet and an active lifestyle reduces the chance of obesity, putting less stress and strain through the knee joints.

Orthotic Options

An orthotic fitting is a key component in the treatment of osteoarthritis. It can provide the following:

  • Pain relief
  • Support daily activities
  • Support during activities that affect the joint, whether at work or during sports

Did you know?

An osteoarthritis patient takes an average of around 1,200 tablets a year to manage pain. But this can lead to damage to the stomach, bowel and liver.

An orthosis from the Agilium line is therefore a good alternative. It’s worth-while for anyone with knee osteoarthritis to test the effectiveness of the orthoses themselves.

The Agilium Line

The braces in our Agilium line are designed specifically to target the symptoms of osteoarthritis of the knee.

Each works in a different way to address the various characteristics of osteoarthritis of the knee. At the same time, we placed great emphasis on their comfort and suitability for daily use.

The Agilium Freestep, the Agilium Reactive and the Agilium Softfit are used to treat unicompartmental osteoarthritis of the knee.

The Agilium Patella is used for patients with patellofemoral arthritis.

The Agilium Freestep is used to treat OA, although it is not applied directly to the knee. Instead is worn on the foot, right inside the shoe! For targeted relieve, it alters the load-line of the knee – the point where the body weight impacts the cartilage.

The Agilium Softfit is a pull on knee brace with a textile base and single upright that stabilises and relieves the knee using a three point force system to offload the affected compartment (side) of the knee.

The Agilium Reactive also uses a three point force system to offload the affected compartment (side) of the knee. However, the innovative closure system in the upper calf provides comfort while sitting without compromising the stable position when standing.

The Agilium Patella combines a textile structure and stabilising component with a dynamic re-alignment mechanism enabling it to maintain the central alignment of the knee cap, reducing pressure behind the knee cap.

Find the appropriate brace with Agilium Select.

Visit our website or go to

If you would like to know more about any of these products please get in touch via or visit our website for more information:

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Masturbation linked to stroke in medical case study



Doctors in Japan have reported how masturbation sparked a bleed on the brain of a 51-year-old man; as published in the Journal of Stroke and Cerebrovascular Diseases.

Doctors at the Nagoya City University Graduate School of Medical Sciences in Japan explained that the man attended hospital after orgasming, with the sudden onset of a searing headache that lasted for around a minute. This was followed by an intense bout of vomiting.

A CT scan showed an acute subarachnoid hemorrhage in the left hemisphere.

The researchers note that masturbation causes an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and noradrenaline plasma levels – which are likely to contribute to the risk of splitting a blood vessel in the brain and result in a hemorrhagic stroke.

The man was treated with stents and coiling, two techniques used to bolster the blood vessel and maintain blood flow to the brain, and he went on to make a full recovery.

The study authors say that they found just two other cases of masturbation-linked strokes in other scientific literature.

The Japanese man survived and was discharged after nearly two weeks in hospital in an “excellent” condition.

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Engineers develop ultrasound patch to monitor blood flow

Breakthrough could help to better predict stroke and other cardiovascular conditions earlier.



Engineers at the University of California San Diego have developed an ultrasound patch that can be worn on the skin. It monitors the blood flow through major arteries and veins deep within the body.

It is hoped that it could help clinicians diagnose cardiovascular conditions faster. It could also help to diagnose blockages in the arteries which could lead to strokes or heart attacks.

The ultrasound patch continuously monitors blood flow as well as blood pressure and heart function in real-time. Assessing how much blood flows through a patient’s blood vessels could help diagnose blood clots, heart valve problems and poor circulation in the limbs.

For many patients, blood flow is not measured during a regular visit to their doctors. It is usually assessed after a patient shows signs of cardiovascular problems.

The patch can be worn on the neck or chest and can measure cardiovascular signals up to 14 centimetres inside the body non invasively with high accuracy.

How the patch works

The patch is made of a thin, flexible polymer that sticks to the skin.

There is an array of millimetre-sized ultrasound transducers on the patch known as an ultrasound phased array.

These are individually controlled by a computer. Another feature is that the ultrasound beam can be tilted at different angles to areas in the body that are not directly below the patch.

It can operate in two modes. In one, all of the transducers can be synched together to transmit ultrasound waves which produce a high-intensity beam that focuses on one spot.

This can be up to 14cm deep in the body.

A wearable ultrasound patch on the skin

The other mode allows the transducers to be programmed to transmit out of sync producing beams at different angles.

In being able to manipulate the beams, it gives the device multiple capacities for monitoring central organs as well as blood flow with high resolution.

When the electricity flows through the transducers, they vibrate while emitting ultrasound waves that travel through the skin into the body.

When they penetrate a blood vessel, they encounter the movement of red blood cells flowing inside. The cell movement changes how the waves are transmitted back to the patch.

This change is recorded by the patch and creates a visual recording of the blood flow. It can also be used to create moving images of the heart’s walls.

The benefits:

Sheng Xu, professor of nanoengineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering said:

“This type of wearable device can give you a more comprehensive, more accurate picture of what’s going on in deep tissues and critical organs like the heart and the brain, all from the surface of the skin.”

Xu added: “This is a first in the field of wearables because existing wearable sensors typically only monitor areas right below them.

“If you want to sense signals at a different position, you have to move the sensor to that location. With this patch, we can probe areas that are wider than the device’s footprint. This can open up a lot of opportunities.”

The researchers say that the easy to use patch could allow patients to wear the patch and monitor the results themselves. It doesn’t depend on a technician to read the results

The next stage

The patch is not yet ready for clinical use. The researchers are currently working on a way to make the electronics wireless as it currently needs a power source and benchtop machine.

Image credit: Nature Biomedical Engineering

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