therapist working on hand of older woman

Therapists Use Hands-On Approach

Whether it be injury, stroke, arthritis or even just too many bad habits and too much time at the keyboard, hand and arm pain doesn’t have to be something you just live with—and the 331 certified hand therapists in Texas can attest to this.

“Hand therapy helps people regain the ability to use their arm and/or hand after they had an injury to their hand or recent surgery,” explains Mary Beth Burkett, a Certified Hand Therapist (CHT) with Texas Health Prosper.

Who can benefit from hand therapy? Well, the answer is expansive. “Diagnoses include but are not limited to patients with tendon and/or ligament lacerations and repairs, tendonitis, nerve disorders, crush injuries, burns, fractures/dislocations, infections, and sports-related injuries,” Burkett says. “Hand therapy can also help people who suffer from chronic problems which affect upper extremity function such as autoimmune disorders, arthritis, neurological conditions, stroke, pain, diabetes, congenital anomalies, and psychogenic disorders of the upper extremity.”

And the treatments are as varied as the ailments. “A hand therapist uses a variety of hands-on, individualized treatment techniques and custom splint fabrication in therapeutic intervention,” Burkett says. “It is proven that hand therapy can speed up recovery time, reduce overall treatment time, and decrease medical costs.”

In addition to some pretty nifty machines and splints if necessary, Burkett says CHTs have one omnipresent set of tools—their own hands. Manual therapy, as it’s called, can even include massage.

“Manual therapy refers to the hands-on treatment by licensed physical or occupational therapists of muscles, tendons, skin, ligaments, and joints,” she says. “Manual therapy includes soft tissue massage to reduce scar tissue, muscle spasms and edema; mobilization of soft tissue and skeletal joints to improve movement, and assisting with stretches and nerve glides.

“The goal of manual therapy is to decrease pain and limited motion to increase overall function,” she adds.

Burkett says that hand therapy can be provided by an occupational therapist or physical therapist that has knowledge and training in treating the hand, wrist, elbow and shoulder.

“After five years of experience and 4,000 hours of hand therapy (upper extremity practice), an OT or PT can take a certification examination that demonstrates in-depth knowledge of all areas of hand therapy,” she explains. “If they pass, they are considered a CHT, Certified Hand Therapist.”

To remain credentialed, every five years the therapist must complete 80 hours of hand therapy continuing education and show that they’ve been providing treatment hours in therapy.

“Eighty-five percent of hand therapists are OTs, and 15 percent are PTs,” Burkett says. “There are 5,812 CHTs in the United States, and there are approximately 331 CHTs in Texas.”

But if those days at the keyboard, or carrying a baby, or repeatedly reaching overhead have you feeling some pain, Burkett says there are ways to avoid those injuries associated with repetitive motion.

“There are numerous ways that people can avoid repetitive strain injuries, otherwise known as cumulative trauma injuries, throughout their workday,” she says. “Repetitive strain injuries are the fastest-growing workplace injuries in the United States, although they can also be non-work related.”

Burkett adds that they can be caused by repetitive forceful motions of the shoulder, hand, wrist, and fingers as well as awkward postures or positioning, and ergonomic hazards like the poor design of tools, poor set-up of a worksite or poor technique in performing an activity.

She says that poor habits and techniques can include:

  • Reaching overhead or too far in front of your body
  • Poor spinal (back and neck) posture, and arm/hand positioning
  • Tight clothing that constricts the body’s ability to move
  • Holding your phone with your head and shoulder while using your hands and for another activity
  • Holding your baby in a cradled position for a long time every day

And if all of that is already bringing on the pain, Burkett says that work with a CHT can help relieve the current pain, and provide you with the knowledge to avoid those actions in the future.

“A CHT can provide education to clients to help reduce the risk of developing a repetitive strain injury,” she says. “Education can include regular stretching and regular exercise to help reduce the risk of developing a repetitive strain injury. It can also include redesigning your workstation or work tools to prevent straining.”

To locate a physician for a referral to a hand therapy program near you, use our “Find-a-Physician” tool.

1 Comment

  • Cathy Kissinger says:

    Great advice, Mary Beth! Keep up the great work you do – you make such a big difference in the lives of your patients!!

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