Our hands are the tools through which most of us feel and explore the world. Yet, like so many things, most of us take our hands for granted. That is, until they hurt, or stop working properly. That’s when we come to appreciate how precious they are. And when you discover the value of hand therapy.
Because of the incredible complexity and importance of the hand; specialty fields of hand surgery and therapy have developed.
Most people have never heard of a ‘hand therapist’ before meeting one. But when they need one, and they meet one to know one, they tend to be glad they have. Hand therapists know all about hands, and their job is to get them working again.
What is Hand Therapy?
Hand Therapy is the rehabilitation of the upper limb, that is, from the fingertip to shoulder and everything in between.
Therapy is aimed at reducing symptoms and increasing function, using non-invasive techniques. Meaning therapists don’t operate or prescribe medications. However, they work closely with doctors and surgeons in a team approach.
Therapists use specialised tests to assess their clients’ symptoms and determine what the cause may be. They take a history, read any reports and observe the limb, before commencing hands on assessment. Assessment includes feeling (palpating) the skin and underlying muscles, bones etc., and getting the client to perform specific movements. Together this information helps the therapist determine what their symptoms mean.
They then work together with clients to set treatment goals, and use specific techniques to help achieve these goals. These include the use of heat and cold, massage, compression, splinting, exercises, education, advice, small aides & equipment, activity and environmental modifications.
Who is a Hand Therapist?
A Hand Therapist is a registered Occupational Therapist or Physiotherapist who has honed their clinical skills through on the job work. They will have completed extra study, and undertake ongoing professional development to keep abreast of developments in the field.
Many countries have a professional association that recognises and represents practitioners. In Australia, we have the Australian Hand Therapy Association (AHTA). Becoming a member of the AHTA is a stringent process. This ensures members are highly skilled in their craft and our profession is respected.
Experienced therapists may choose further acknowledgement of their knowledge and obtain the Certified Hand Therapist (CHT, USA) credential. This is an American certification, but highly recognised internationally. Being a CHT demonstrates the practitioner has substantial clinical experience, and advanced theoretical knowledge in hand therapy.
Who can Hand Therapy help?
Anyone who has had an injury, deformity or disease, in their hands or arms can benefit from hand therapy.
Following and injury or operation, hand therapy can assist to manage swelling and scars. Therapists help protect injured structures to optimise healing, before safely working to restore movement and strength. They work with clients to guide them back to using their arm as best they can for work and daily tasks.
Hand therapist also help clients who have chronic and degenerative conditions to manage their symptoms. They understand how different diseases effect the body, and how to work with this to maximise participation and independence in valued daily activities.
After all, for most of us, our hands play a vital role in enabling us the achieve and enjoy what we most want to from life. So, protect and respect your precious dextrous tools. And in the event, they let you down, rest assured, there is “such a thing as a hand therapist” who can help you get them working again.