I have been told to see a hand therapist, but am unsure what that means. Who provides “hand therapy”?
A hand therapist is an occupational therapist (OT) or physical therapist (PT) who has specific training and expertise in treating hand and arm conditions. Typically, this person has spent many additional years gaining expertise with hand and arm injuries and treatment. When an OT or PT has reached this higher level of experience, they often become a Certified Hand Therapist (CHT).
So I can see anyone that is a PT, OT or CHT to take care of my problem?
You will want to ensure that the therapist you see, whether it is an OT or a PT, is qualified to treat your condition. If they are a CHT, it means they have had extra training and passed a rigorous exam to demonstrate their skill. If they are an OT or a PT, they may still treat hand and arm conditions, but you should ask questions to ensure they have spent extra time after their formal education learning about the hand and arm. To find a hand therapist near you, click here.
What kinds of problems do hand therapists treat?
Hand therapists treat a variety of conditions of the hand and arm, e.g. people who have arthritis, shoulder pain or injuries (rotator cuff tears), nerve problems (carpal tunnel syndrome), tendonitis and most traumatic injuries of the arm (cut tendons or broken bones).
In general, you will need a referral from your physician or surgeon to see a hand therapist. If you want to find out more about what a hand therapist does, check out this link.
Do I need to have surgery to see a hand therapist?
Not at all. Hand therapists are frequently called upon to help prevent the need for surgery. While hand therapists are able to treat post-operative conditions, they also provide conservative and preventative treatments. Check out this video of Helen, a hand therapy patient, who was recently interviewed about her experience.
Adam Holbrook, OTR/L, CHT is a Certified Hand Therapist and an active member of the American Society of Hand Therapists.