Hand Therapy: An Introduction to Occupational Therapy for Hand and Upper Extremity Function

Hand Therapy: An Introduction to Occupational Therapy for Hand and Upper Extremity Function

June 27, 2023

Table of Contents

Hand Therapy: An Introduction

Hand therapy is a specialized field within occupational therapy that focuses on rehabilitating and improving the function of the hand and upper extremity. This type of therapy is particularly beneficial for individuals who have suffered hand injuries, undergone surgery, or have conditions that affect hand function. Hand therapy can help enhance mobility, reduce pain, and promote independence in daily activities.

The Role of an Occupational Therapist

An occupational therapist is a healthcare provider who assists individuals in improving their ability to perform everyday tasks. Occupational therapists work with clients to develop strategies and interventions that help them participate in their activities safely and independently. While the term “occupation” may initially refer to one’s job, it encompasses all the tasks that individuals engage in on a daily basis.

The Process of Occupational Therapy

When you first meet with an occupational therapist, they will conduct an assessment to understand your goals and identify any barriers to success you may be facing. This assessment might involve discussions about your personal and professional life, as well as an examination of your home environment. By gathering this information, the therapist can tailor interventions and identify areas in which you need support.

Intervention refers to any changes that can be made to your environment or routine to aid in task completion. This might include using assistive equipment, such as prosthetics or wheelchairs, or engaging in exercises to increase physical strength. Additionally, occupational therapists work closely with other healthcare professionals, such as mental health professionals, to address emotional and mental health concerns.

Goals of Occupational Therapy

The primary goal of occupational therapy is to help individuals improve their ability to perform daily tasks and live as independently as possible. Occupational therapists work with clients to find ways to safely accomplish a wide range of activities, including dressing, medication management, grocery shopping, driving, and using technology. The specific activities targeted in therapy will vary depending on each individual’s unique needs and goals.

Monitoring Progress and Adjusting Interventions

Throughout the course of therapy, your occupational therapist will regularly monitor your progress and make adjustments to your interventions as needed. They will assess your physical and mental health, ensuring that you have the necessary resources to achieve your goals. Additionally, occupational therapists collaborate with other members of your healthcare team to optimize your overall physical well-being and provide emotional and social support.

Conditions That May Benefit from Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy can be beneficial for individuals recovering from a range of injuries, traumas, chronic conditions, and disabilities. Some examples include:

  • Hand injuries, such as fractures, dislocations, or tendon injuries
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Stroke
  • Arthritis
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Developmental disabilities
  • Chronic pain conditions
  • Mental health disorders

Education and Certification for Occupational Therapists

In the United States, all occupational therapists must be licensed and certified. This requires obtaining a bachelor’s degree from an accredited undergraduate college or university, as well as a master’s degree in occupational therapy. The process typically takes six to seven years to complete, including four years for the undergraduate degree and two to three years for the master’s degree. After completing their education, occupational therapists must pass an exam administered by the National Board of Certification in Occupational Therapy.

Difference Between Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy

While both occupational therapy and physical therapy focus on improving movement and function, there are differences in their approaches. Physical therapy primarily targets specific areas of the body to reduce symptoms and facilitate recovery after injuries or surgeries. In contrast, occupational therapy takes a more holistic approach, addressing not only physical challenges but also mental and social barriers to participation in daily activities. Some individuals may benefit from receiving both occupational and physical therapy concurrently to address different aspects of their condition.

The Ongoing Process of Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy is an ongoing process that requires time and adjustments to find the most effective interventions and therapies for each individual. It is essential to openly communicate with your occupational therapist about your goals and the specific activities you wish to perform. They will work collaboratively with you to develop strategies that not only help you achieve your goals but also promote strength and safety throughout your daily routine.

In conclusion, hand therapy is a specialized field within occupational therapy that focuses on rehabilitating and improving hand and upper extremity function. Occupational therapists play a vital role in assisting individuals in regaining independence in daily activities. By working collaboratively with clients, occupational therapists develop customized interventions and strategies that address physical, mental, and social aspects of functioning. Through ongoing monitoring and adjustment, occupational therapy helps individuals achieve their movement and activity goals, leading to improved overall well-being and quality of life.