What is Hand Therapy?

Steve R.

Hand therapy combines physical and occupational therapy, and involves the rehabilitation of a person’s upper extremities, including the hands, fingers, and wrists, that have been affected by trauma, disease, or a neurological disorder. The aim of treatment is for a patient to be able to have the utmost use of his hand after a diagnosis and to return to a productive life or to live as normal a life as possible. Treatment may also entail providing emotional and psychological support to patients.

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

Performed at various locations including hospitals, rehabilitation centers, clinics, and sports medicine facilities, hand therapy is provided to patients for various reasons. Common conditions that may require hand therapy include fractures, burns, arthritis, amputation of fingers, and nerve damage. Additionally, a person may require hand therapy to assist with carpal tunnel syndrome and to recover from sports injuries. Typically, a patient will need hand therapy to manage acute or chronic pain.

People suffering from arthritis may benefit from hand therapy.
People suffering from arthritis may benefit from hand therapy.

A hand therapists will conduct a thorough musculoskeletal, sensory, and strength examination of the damaged area to form a diagnosis. Other activities involved in therapy may include designing splints, training patients to live with prosthetics, and treating scars and wounds. Also, the therapy may include specific exercises designed to increase or strengthen a patient's range of motion and agility in affected areas.

Patients may undergo hand therapy soon after an injury or surgery. The amount of time spent in hand therapy will vary, depending on the injury. For instance, if a person suffers from a tendon injury or muscle tear, once the area heals, he may no longer require therapy. If an individual suffers a more serious injury, however, such as the loss of fingers, he may require therapy indefinitely.

A certified hand therapist is skilled in evaluating wounds, pain, strength, and endurance. She also is competent in various surgical techniques, as well as postoperative recovery methods. Typically, a hand therapist first received trained in occupational or physical therapy and then advanced to gain specific training related to the hand.

At least five years of clinical experience typically is required to become a certified hand therapist, as well as hundreds of hours working in a rehabilitation setting. Hand therapists also must pass a test and demonstrate proficiency in clinical skills. As the profession is continually evolving, a hand therapist is required to renew his credential every five years.

Hand therapy may be necessary following a hand injury.
Hand therapy may be necessary following a hand injury.

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