Happy Hand Therapy Week! For those of you scratching your heads because you have never heard of hand therapy, I will enlighten you. The first week of June is National Hand Therapy Week. During this week, many hand therapists celebrate their profession by spreading awareness and educating the public on the many benefits of working with a hand therapist. As an occupational therapist who specializes in rehabilitation of the hand, I am always looking for ways to promote the profession and shed some light on the intricacies of the hand therapy world.
Imagine for a moment that you are walking on an icy winter’s day when suddenly, in the blink of an eye, you find yourself slipping and falling onto your outstretched hand. It happens so quickly you can barely process it. In the emergency room you hear the words “fracture” and “surgery” and it makes you wish you never stepped outside of your house that day. After the surgery, your hand and wrist are stiff, painful and swollen. You can’t even write your own name to sign off on the hospital discharge papers or even begin to imagine how you will button up your coat. At home, you ask your spouse for help with tasks that you never thought you would need assistance with: tying your shoes, combing your hair—forget about even trying to do the dishes or open up a jar! At your follow-up with the surgeon he refers you for occupational/hand therapy and explains that this therapy will help you get back to doing those day-to-day functions you thought to be impossible. You feel reassured and filled with hope that although it will be a rough road to recovery, you have a dedicated therapist at your side to guide you.
Oftentimes, I am shocked to hear that some of my patients had never heard of occupational therapy or hand therapy prior to stepping into my office. Now, it is important to understand that an occupational therapist has many roles that vary depending on the setting they are working in and the population within that setting. Some common occupational therapy roles include helping children with disabilities to participate fully in school and social situations, helping people recovering from injury to regain skills and providing supports for older adults experiencing physical and cognitive changes. Occupational therapy services typically include an individualized evaluation, during which the client and occupational therapist determine the person’s goals. A customized intervention plan is put in place to improve the person’s ability to perform daily activities and reach the goals, and an outcome measure is performed to ensure that the goals are being met.
“Occupational therapy practitioners enable people of all ages to live life to its fullest by helping them promote health, and prevent—or live better with—injury, illness or disability.” (American Occupational Therapy Association)
Occupational therapists treat conditions that impact a patient’s ability to partake in everyday activities. This can include getting dressed, eating, bathing and more. With the help of an occupational therapist, patients can function more independently, while also preventing future injury.
As a hand therapist in an outpatient rehabilitation setting, my primary area of treatment focuses on patients with injuries or dysfunctions of the upper extremity including the shoulder, elbow, wrist and hand. Hand therapists are the ones who bridge the gap between medically or surgically treating an injury, and restoring functional independence.
I utilize a wide variety of techniques and tools during my hand therapy sessions, including activities and exercise programs, education, customized orthotic fabrication and adaptive device recommendations as well as management of pain, swelling, wounds and scars.
Being able to restore a client’s hand function is critical to their ability to perform their necessary activities of daily living (ADLs) such as grooming themselves, preparing a meal and getting dressed, to name a few. Many of my patients mention that they had no idea how hard recovery from a hand injury could be and how much they had taken their hands for granted prior to their injury. In my experience I have seen a very broad range of injuries including (but not limited to) carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, De Quervain’s tenosynovitis, tennis elbow, mallet finger, arthritis, fractures, trigger fingers, post surgical tendon ligament and nerve repairs, cubital tunnel syndrome, joint stiffness and more! Every day is a chance to help a person move past their injury and get them back to performing their daily occupations. As a hand therapist, I have had the unique privilege of restoring my patient’s functional independence and improving their quality of life.
By Mollie Sherman
Mollie Sherman is an occupational therapist at Professional Physical Therapy working out of Englewood and Hoboken, New Jersey. For more information please feel free to contact her at [email protected]