Getting In Touch With Hand Therapy

Health Topics

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Hands. We depend on them for most of the activities of daily life, at work, home, and play. But injury or disease, like osteoarthritis, can get in the way of using them effectively.

That’s where hand therapists come in. They’re occupational or physical therapists who have completed specialized training to prepare them to help you restore impaired function in your hands and other parts of the arm, or upper extremity, including the wrist, elbow, and shoulder girdle, where the upper arm joins the shoulder.

Krista Storms, an occupational therapist who specializes in hand therapy for Premier Health, explains that hand therapists complete at least three years of clinical experience and additional training in hand therapy.

Hand therapists work with patients who have a variety of conditions, such as arthritis flare-ups, carpal tunnel syndrome, cubital tunnel syndrome, or a traumatic injury like a fall, sports injury, or workplace injury, such as getting a hand caught in machinery.

She adds, “Hand therapists see patients at all stages of hand injuries, not just after surgery. We see patients prior to surgery, or we work with them to try to prevent surgery.”

Premier Health hand therapist Krista Storms explains the types of conditions and injuries hand therapists treat.

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The Advantage Of a Specialized Hand Therapist

Certified hand therapists start out as occupational or physical therapists with an understanding of treating the whole body. “We still treat the whole body holistically; however, we're focused in on the hand and the intricacies and complexities of the hand,” Storms explains.

Hand therapists, she says, “enjoy making patients learn to live a better life. There's so many different muscles in the hand, and hand therapists have trained to know each individual muscle and nerve so that they can identify things that the general practitioner wouldn't.”

The goal of hand therapy is to return you, as much as possible, to normal function, whether for daily activities such as bathing, dressing, or taking care of a loved one – or returning to work.

“We work with them to increase their mobility, reduce their pain, reduce their swelling,” Storms says. Hand therapists also provide wound care. “We splint structures for stabilization after a fracture, or if someone has tendinitis, we often will make a splint or an orthosis to try and rest that extremity or that finger so it can recover and reduce the inflammation.”

Hand therapist Krista Storms describes the type of care hand therapists provide patients.

Click play to watch the video or read video transcript.

The Hand Therapist’s Tool Box

A hand therapist can also provide you a range of simple devices or gadgets to help make life and routine activities easier when a condition like arthritis makes them more difficult.

For instance, to help control overnight swelling, a common arthritis symptom, hand therapists often have patients wear compression gloves at night. “In the morning that helps prevent some of that stiffness and pain that they have.”

Other devices that can help you cope with or overcome the limitations of arthritis include jar openers to improve your grip or foam pieces that slide over pens to make writing easier, or eating utensils, to help at mealtime.   

Another common device that Storms recommends for relieving arthritis pain in the hands is a paraffin wax bath. Dipping your hand in the heated wax bath, as directed, can relieve arthritis pain.

Hand therapists also teach patients exercises and offer splinting to help patients rest affected parts of the hand, such as fingers and the wrist.

Hand therapist Krista Storms describes common therapies for the hand.

Click play to watch the video or read video transcript.

It's easy to get the care you need.

See a Premier Physician Network provider near you.