What is a Hand Therapist?

A hand therapist focuses on the rehabilitation of individuals with conditions affecting the hands and upper extremities. These therapists are typically occupational or physical therapists who have undergone additional training and acquired expertise in treating a wide range of hand and upper limb conditions, including fractures, injuries, nerve disorders, and post-surgical rehabilitation. The goal of a hand therapist is to restore optimal function, reduce pain, and improve the overall quality of life for individuals with hand-related issues.

Hand therapists often collaborate closely with orthopedic surgeons, plastic surgeons, and other healthcare professionals to ensure comprehensive care for patients with hand and upper extremity conditions. Their expertise lies in the intricate knowledge of hand anatomy, biomechanics, and the application of evidence-based rehabilitation strategies to facilitate the recovery of patients with hand-related challenges.

What does a Hand Therapist do?

A hand therapist working with a client.

Duties and Responsibilities
Hand therapists have a range of duties and responsibilities focused on the rehabilitation of individuals with hand and upper extremity conditions. Here are key aspects of their role:

  • Patient Assessment: Conduct thorough assessments of patients with hand and upper extremity conditions to determine the extent of impairment, functional limitations, and specific needs. This may involve evaluating range of motion, strength, sensation, and overall hand function.
  • Treatment Planning: Develop individualized treatment plans based on the assessment findings and the patient's goals. Create rehabilitation programs that address pain management, improve strength, enhance flexibility, and restore functional independence in daily activities.
  • Therapeutic Interventions: Implement a variety of therapeutic interventions and techniques, including therapeutic exercises, manual therapy, splinting, and modalities such as ultrasound or electrical stimulation. Design and supervise progressive rehabilitation programs tailored to the unique needs of each patient.
  • Splinting and Orthotic Fabrication: Design, fabricate, and fit custom splints and orthotic devices to support and protect the hand or upper extremity. These devices are often crucial in promoting proper alignment, preventing deformities, and facilitating optimal healing.
  • Wound Care and Scar Management: Provide care for wounds, incisions, or scars resulting from surgeries or injuries. Implement scar management techniques to minimize scarring and improve tissue healing.
  • Patient Education: Educate patients on their condition, the rehabilitation process, and strategies for self-management. Instruct patients in home exercises, proper ergonomics, and techniques to prevent re-injury.
  • Collaboration with Healthcare Professionals: Collaborate with orthopedic surgeons, plastic surgeons, and other healthcare professionals involved in the patient's care. Communicate effectively to ensure a coordinated and comprehensive approach to rehabilitation.
  • Progress Monitoring: Regularly assess and reassess the progress of patients throughout the rehabilitation process. Modify treatment plans as needed based on changes in the patient's condition or goals.
  • Pain Management: Implement pain management strategies, which may include therapeutic modalities, manual techniques, and patient education on pain coping mechanisms.
  • Adaptive Equipment Recommendations: Evaluate the need for and recommend adaptive equipment or assistive devices that can enhance a patient's ability to perform daily activities independently.
  • Documentation and Reporting: Maintain accurate and detailed documentation of assessments, treatment plans, interventions, and progress notes. Ensure compliance with regulatory requirements and standards.

Types of Hand Therapists
In the field of hand therapy, professionals may specialize in various areas based on their specific training, expertise, and certification. While the overarching term is "hand therapist," there are different types or specialties within this discipline.

  • Certified Hand Therapist (CHT): A Certified Hand Therapist (CHT) is a specialized occupational therapist (OT) or physical therapist (PT) who has earned the Certified Hand Therapist credential. CHTs have completed extensive training and have a significant amount of clinical experience specifically focused on hand and upper extremity rehabilitation.
  • Occupational Therapist (OT) with Hand Therapy Specialization: Occupational therapists who specialize in hand therapy may focus their practice on evaluating and treating individuals with hand and upper extremity conditions. They may or may not hold the Certified Hand Therapist (CHT) credential.
  • Physical Therapist (PT) with Hand Therapy Specialization: Physical therapists with a specialization in hand therapy concentrate on the rehabilitation of hand and upper extremity injuries or conditions. Similar to occupational therapists, some physical therapists may pursue additional certification as Certified Hand Therapists (CHTs).
  • Pediatric Hand Therapist: Some hand therapists specialize in working with pediatric populations, addressing hand and upper extremity conditions in children. They have expertise in adapting interventions to meet the unique needs of pediatric patients.
  • Wound Care Hand Therapist: Hand therapists with expertise in wound care focus on providing specialized treatment for hand injuries or conditions that involve wounds, incisions, or scars. They implement techniques to promote optimal wound healing and scar management.
  • Lymphedema Hand Therapist: Hand therapists with training in lymphedema management address swelling and fluid retention issues in the hand and upper extremities. They use techniques such as manual lymphatic drainage and compression therapy.
  • Burn Rehabilitation Hand Therapist: Hand therapists specializing in burn rehabilitation work with individuals who have sustained burn injuries to the hands and upper extremities. They focus on addressing scar tissue, improving range of motion, and maximizing functional outcomes.
  • Neuro Hand Therapist: Hand therapists specializing in neurorehabilitation work with individuals who have neurological conditions affecting the hands, such as stroke or nerve injuries. They develop rehabilitation programs to address motor control and functional deficits.
  • Certified Pediatric Hand Therapist (CPHT): Some hand therapists may specialize in pediatric care and hold certifications specific to pediatric hand therapy. These professionals are skilled in addressing hand and upper extremity conditions in children.

Are you suited to be a hand therapist?

Hand therapists have distinct personalities. They tend to be investigative individuals, which means they’re intellectual, introspective, and inquisitive. They are curious, methodical, rational, analytical, and logical. Some of them are also social, meaning they’re kind, generous, cooperative, patient, caring, helpful, empathetic, tactful, and friendly.

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What is the workplace of a Hand Therapist like?

The workplace of a hand therapist is diverse, encompassing various healthcare settings where individuals with hand and upper extremity conditions seek rehabilitation services. Hand therapists can be found working in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, private clinics, and outpatient therapy facilities. The environment is typically clinical, with well-equipped therapy rooms that include specialized tools, exercise equipment, and diagnostic instruments specific to hand and upper extremity rehabilitation.

In hospitals, hand therapists often collaborate closely with orthopedic and plastic surgeons, providing pre-operative and post-operative rehabilitation to individuals who have undergone hand surgeries. Rehabilitation centers may focus on more intensive rehabilitation programs, catering to patients with severe hand injuries or complex conditions. Private clinics and outpatient facilities offer a more personalized and often holistic approach to hand therapy, providing one-on-one sessions and tailored rehabilitation plans.

The workspace itself is designed to facilitate a range of therapeutic interventions, including exercises to improve strength and flexibility, manual therapy techniques, and the fabrication of custom splints or orthotic devices. Hand therapists may have access to state-of-the-art technology and diagnostic tools, such as ultrasound machines or electromyography (EMG) equipment, to assess and monitor patients' progress.

Patient consultation and assessment areas are essential components of the workspace, allowing hand therapists to conduct thorough evaluations, discuss treatment plans, and educate patients on self-management strategies. Collaboration with other healthcare professionals, such as orthopedic surgeons, physical therapists, and occupational therapists, is common, emphasizing a multidisciplinary approach to patient care.

Additionally, the workplace of a hand therapist may include dedicated spaces for activities such as wound care, scar management, and adaptive equipment assessment. The atmosphere is focused on providing a supportive and encouraging environment for patients to actively participate in their rehabilitation journey, promoting optimal recovery and functional independence.

Hand Therapists are also known as:
Hand Therapy Specialist