What Can I Expect from Hand Physiotherapy?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Hand physiotherapy can help patients rebuild functionality after an injury, address chronic hand problems, or prevent future injuries. It can include sessions in a physiotherapy clinic as well as work to do at home and requires a high level of patient participation. Physiotherapists can integrate a variety of approaches into their work, including massage, specific stretching exercises, and patient education. The length of time spent in therapy depends on the nature of the injury and how well the patient responds to care.

A model of a human hand.
A model of a human hand.

At an initial assessment, the physiotherapist will interview the patient, look over medical records, and conduct an examination of the hand and forearm. A large number of bones articulate in the hand and wrist, controlled by muscles and ligaments extending up into the arm. Hand physiotherapy involves locating specific problems and addressing them through stretching, splinting, and strength-building exercises. Patients can also discuss their goals; they may want to return to normal physical activity, could need help protecting their hands at work, or might need assistance with developing fine motor skills to retain independence.

People who type incorrectly may eventually need hand physiotherapy.
People who type incorrectly may eventually need hand physiotherapy.

During hand physiotherapy sessions, the practitioner may massage the hand, stretch it, and have the patient perform exercises. Some of these involve the use of props and tools like balls for the patient to squeeze for resistance work. The forearm is also a target, as tension, soreness, and injuries can be located in this region as well. Homework may include gentle stretching and ergonomic exercises.

A finger or other part of the hand may be splinted as part of physiotherapy.
A finger or other part of the hand may be splinted as part of physiotherapy.

If necessary, hand physiotherapy may include splinting and bracing to support the hand. This can reduce the risk of additional injury and protect the patient’s hands outside of physical therapy sessions. Wound and scar care is also integrated. Scarring in the hand and forearm can limit range of motion, making it critical to receive care after an injury to prevent future mobility problems. Patients may also receive anatomy education to help them understand how the hand works and why various exercises are so important.

Hand physiotherapy might include work on the forearm, where soreness and tension also can occur.
Hand physiotherapy might include work on the forearm, where soreness and tension also can occur.

As patients progress, the number of office visits may decline. Individual follow-up appointments provide an opportunity to determine if the patient is recovering or relapsing. This can be a particular concern in hand physiotherapy for repetitive stress injuries, like carpal tunnel syndrome associated with office work. If the patient isn’t using proper care at work, or begins slacking on exercises, the problem may recur, and could become worse due to the preexisting damage from inflammation and irritation.

Massage is one of the techniques to help the hand to heal.
Massage is one of the techniques to help the hand to heal.
Hand physiotherapy may involve splinting to support the hand.
Hand physiotherapy may involve splinting to support the hand.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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