By: Kendra Harms MS, OTR/L, CHT
Hand therapy is a specialist area of practice for occupational therapists. Contrary to its name, hand therapy focuses on the rehabilitation of the entire upper extremity, not just the hands. Many of the therapists who work in this area strive to become Certified Hand Therapists (CHT’s), which is an additional credential given to those who have passed an extensive comprehensive exam and have practiced in this specific area of practice for over 5000 hours before taking the test.
You may be asking why is it necessary to have this specialty area of practice just for treating the upper extremities or hands? Many of us take for granted the many functions our hands perform. From holding a fork to bring food to our mouth to eat, tying our shoes, holding our child’s hand, typing on our computers or phones, even sensing the difference between a quarter and a dime in our pocket. Our hands are intimately ingrained in everything we do daily. Can you imagine losing the functioning of one of your arms or hands? Even stiffness, pain or loss of sensation can have a tremendous impact on our independence and functional abilities. And when an injury occurs or symptoms arise, there are things that can be done to restore, treat, adapt, or prevent long term deficits. Prevention is even possible if addressed early on.
As we age, many people may notice intermittent symptoms of joint stiffness, pain, numbness or tingling even loss of strength. These initial symptoms should not be ignored as often early treatment can help prevent progression of symptoms and sometimes, permanent damage. Some examples are carpal tunnel and osteoarthritis. Both of these conditions can begin with mild, intermittent symptoms. If diagnosed and treated early, many people can experience relief and stop the progression of symptoms before permanent changes occur. Some options for treatment can be exercises, stretches, modifications to tools or objects we use every day, modalities such as ultrasound, education, and custom made splints/braces.
Many people who begin to have symptoms of osteoarthritis (pain, stiffness and sometime deformity of joints in their hands/fingers) can help stop the progression of joint damage, loss of function and strength by implementing the use of custom made splints/ braces that align the joints in the proper way, thus lessening the chance of permanent deformity and pain. Education and practice of joint protection principles is also an extremely effective tool in treatment. Hand therapist are specialists in diagnosing, treating and implementing strategies to assist in all conditions of the hand, wrist, forearm and elbow. And because the upper extremity is made up of complex and extensive structures, having a specialist skilled in this area will ultimately provide the best potential outcome.
If you or someone you know is having symptoms in their elbows, wrists, hands/fingers then it’s important to seek out the help of a hand therapist. Our hand therapist at GCAHR can even come to you! Call us at 605-231-2490 to learn more or to schedule an appointment with Kendra, our Certified Hand Therapist.