October is National Physical Therapy month and as physical therapists we strive to encourage the public to explore the many benefits of physical therapy. One aspect of physical therapy that many people are unaware of is hand therapy.
After receiving a degree in physical therapy, there are a variety of specialties that a therapist can then choose to focus on, if she or he wishes. One of the options for both physical and occupational therapists is hand therapy.
The definition of hand therapy, paraphrased from The Hand Therapy Certification Commission, is the art and science of rehabilitation of the upper limb, which includes the hand, wrist, elbow and shoulder. It merges both occupational and physical therapy practice and combines comprehensive knowledge of the structure of the upper limb with function and activity. Using specialized skills in assessment, planning and treatment, hand therapists provide therapeutic interventions to prevent loss of use, restore function and/or reverse the progression of injury or degeneration of the upper limb in order to enhance an individual’s ability to execute tasks and to participate fully in life situations.”
Hand therapy is not just about the hand. It encompasses a variety of conditions related to the shoulder, elbow, wrist and hand. Including (but not limited to) pain, post-surgical management, traumatic injuries, wound care and wound management after surgery or injury, overuse-type injuries such as tendonitis, arthritis, numbness and sensitivity as well as stiffness and weakness.
When you come in for hand therapy, it is very similar to other physical therapy treatments. Your therapist will complete an initial evaluation which includes an assessment of your injured or painful body part and oftentimes your uninjured side, as well, to compare if appropriate. This evaluation includes range of motion measurements, strength, sensation, skin condition assessment as well as using their clinical expertise to select appropriate tests and measures for your given condition. The therapist works with you to develop a plan to resume or regain function and work toward your individual goals. Because this is the perfect time to ask questions and discuss things you are unsure of or activities that you would like to return to your therapist will ask questions about your lifestyle so he/she can best help you to recover more fully. This way you and your therapist can make goals together to achieve during your sessions.
Oftentimes injuries can be related and you don’t even realize it. For example, you could have had an injury to your shoulder and now you notice that your elbow has been more painful lately. This can be due to compensation at your shoulder and you didn’t even know that it was happening. A hand therapist can help you to normalize your movement again to take the strain off the rest of your arm. The same holds true for the wrist and hand. So many times a secondary injury or pain can occur because of a compensation or altered movement from a previous injury.
If you think hand therapy may be helpful for you or a loved one, speak with your provider to see if it would be beneficial for you. Most health insurances require a physician’s (or provider’s) prescription.
Having the certification of a Certified Hand Therapist or “CHT” denotes the therapist has a minimum of three years of experience; 4,000 or more hours in the direct practice of hand therapy and has successfully completed a comprehensive exam based on clinical skills and theory of upper quarter rehabilitation.
Kristi Dionisio is a physical therapist and certified hand therapist at UHS Delaware Valley Hospital’s Physical Rehabilitation and Therapy Department in Walton. To schedule an appointment or to learn more, call 607-865-2155.