Hand therapy is the art and science of evaluating and treating injuries and conditions of the upper extremity which includes the shoulder, elbow, forearm, wrist and hand. A hand therapist is an Occupational Therapist or Physical Therapist who specialize in treatment of pathological upper extremity conditions resulting from trauma, disease, congenital or acquired deformity. Hand therapists provide non-operative interventions, preventative care, and post-surgical rehabilitation for a wide variety of upper extremity disorders. They work closely with orthopedic surgeons who also specialize in the hand to ensure maximal outcomes for patients. Han`d therapists bridge the gap from medical management of upper extremity conditions to successful recovery, allowing individuals to function normally in their daily lives.
Why see a Certified Hand Therapist (CHT)?
Hand therapy evolved from the need for a specialist with the knowledge and experience required to manage the challenging recovery of complex hand and upper extremity injuries. It is the merging of occupational and physical therapy theory and practice that combines comprehensive knowledge of the upper limb with function and activity. Hand therapists utilize specialized skills to provide therapeutic intervention to prevent dysfunction and restore optimal use of the upper limb in order to enhance an individual’s ability to execute tasks and to participate fully in life situations.
A Certified Hand Therapist has dedicated their career and efforts to obtain national credentialing that requires a deep dive into all upper extremity anatomy, ailments, and advanced treatment techniques. To obtain the CHT credential, a hand therapist must practice for a minimum of three years, accumulating a minimum of 4,000 hours of treatment for hand and upper extremity disorders, and pass a rigorous certification exam to demonstrate their competency in assessment and treatment of the upper extremity. Every CHT is required to demonstrate continued professional development and competency by recertifying every five years. All hand therapists at CAO are either certified or completing our mentorship program on the path of becoming a CHT.
What to expect?
On your initial visit the hand therapist will perform a thorough evaluation and provide a treatment plan specified to fit your individual goals and needs. The hand therapist will discuss treatment techniques that can help you reach your optimal rehab potential. Education will be provided throughout the rehab journey. Implementing the recommended exercises, wearing your splint if applicable, and following all precautions outside of therapy is critical to your outcome. Hand therapists are here to advance or adjust your program to maximize your functional use and return to daily living including work and sports. At CAO, the hand therapists have direct contact with the CAO hand surgeons and can access all imaging, physician visits, and operative reports in order to provide you the best comprehensive care.
Hand therapists utilize many treatment techniques that include manual therapy, modalities, strength and conditioning, Blood Flow Restriction Training, and functional tasks to improve your independence. Below are just a few options however not all of these techniques will be appropriate for you and will be at the discretion of the specialized hand therapist based on your rehab needs, precautions, and contra indications.
- Manual therapy may include soft tissue mobilization, cupping, instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization, edema mobilization, and scar management.
- Modalities may include heat and/or cold therapy, compression therapy, ultrasound, and electrical stimulation (IFC, NMES, TENs).
- Strength and conditioning is tailored to your injury phase and progressed appropriately.
- Blood Flow Restriction Therapy (BFRT) is a technique that is utilized for improving muscle function in appropriate patients. The system works through the application of a specialized and low risk tourniquet system to a limb. This creates an environment in the muscle tissue to allow strength improvements with low loads. There are a variety of theories about why these strength gains occur including anabolic system response, cellular swelling, or metabolite build up.
- Functional tasks… what better way to rehab than completing tasks that are functional and meaningful to you!
What are the benefits of hand therapy?
A qualified hand therapist is trained to evaluate and treat any problem related to the upper extremities. They are trained to help you in the following ways:
- Custom splint fabrication
- Manage and improve pain
- Regain strength and function
- Increase range of motion and dexterity
- Desensitize nerves following injury or trauma
- Provide education and training to adapt to daily activities and responsibilities
- Improve ability to return to work, sports, and home care
- Reduce the need for corrective/reparative surgery
Common hand therapy conditions
- Boutineere Deformity
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Cubital Tunnel Syndrome
- DeQuervain’s Disease
- Dupuytren’s Disease
- Fractures and Dislocations
- Golfer’s Elbow (Medial Epicondylitis)
- Joint Replacement for Arthritis
- Ligament Tears/Instability
- Mallet Injury
- Orthopedic pediatric injuries/conditions
- Repetitive Strain Conditions
- Shoulder Conditions
- Sports Injuries
- Swan Neck Deformity
- Flexor and Extensor Tendon Injuries/repair
- Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis)
- TFCC Injury (Triangular Fibrocartilage Complex Tear)
- Worker’s Compensation Injuries
- Wrist Injuries