Your hands are some of the most important parts of your body. From the time you wipe the crust out of your eyes when you wake up until you turn your light switch off at night, you use your hands continuously throughout the day.
Life gets harder if your hands are injured or if it hurts to move them. Simple chores can become difficult. Tasks you used to complete in minutes can take much longer and leave you sore afterward.
Hand therapists can treat these conditions. Read on to learn more about what this type of specialist does and how they might be able to help you.
What is a hand therapist?
A hand therapist is a specialist who evaluates and treats conditions in the upper extremities (everything between the shoulder and the fingertips). They may see patients for injuries, for degenerative conditions like arthritis, or for preventive maintenance to help patients avoid injury.
These therapists often treat patients after surgery. For instance, someone who undergoes joint replacement surgery in their wrist or fingers may need help building strength and regaining flexibility in their hand afterward. A hand specialist can help them in this regard.
In other cases, you may want to see a hand specialist in preparation for surgery (“prehabilitation”). Physical therapy can help you build strength and flexibility before your hand surgery as a way to reduce muscle loss.
Types of hand therapists
There are two primary types of hand specialists:
- Physical therapists — Physical therapists help people move better. When you see a physical therapist for hand treatment, their goal is to get your hand working as best as possible.
- Occupational therapists — Occupational therapists rehabilitate people so they can perform specific tasks. For instance, they might help you rehabilitate from a work-related hand injury so you can go back to your job.
Some therapists perform both of these roles while others specialize. Others earn the designation of certified hand therapist (CHT) by practicing for three years, accumulating 4,000 hours of treatments, and passing a certification exam. Orthopedic and general surgeons typically consult CHTs for surgeries involving the hands.
What do hand therapists treat?
Hand therapists treat most conditions that cause pain or discomfort in the upper extremities. Here are some examples:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Rotator cuff tears.
- Tennis elbow.
- Golfer’s elbow.
- Bone spurs.
- Shoulder impingements.
- Chronic pain in the hands.
- Breaks, fractures and crush injuries.
Hand therapy treatment methods
Hand specialists use a wide range of techniques to treat their patients. Here are a few of them:
- Manual therapy — Manual therapy is a technique in which physical therapists use their own hands to strategically apply pressure to painful areas, often relieving tension.
- IASTM — Instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization is similar to manual therapy, but the therapist uses special tools to manipulate the joints and muscles.
- Exercises — Exercises are a big component of physical and occupational therapy. While simple exercises like squeezing a ball can aid in treatment, therapists build a customized exercise plan tailored to each client’s specific conditions.
When to schedule an appointment with a hand therapist
Some people visit a hand specialist on a doctor’s recommendation. For example, if you’ve recently undergone surgery or suffered a significant injury, your doctor may send you to a hand specialist to help you recover. Other times, it may not be so obvious. You know your hand isn’t functioning at an optimal level, but do you need physical therapy?
Keep an eye out for these signs:
- Persistent pain or discomfort — If any part of your upper extremities feels sore, achy or uncomfortable for more than a few days, it’s good to see a professional. This could point to any number of conditions.
- Stiffness — Stiffness in your shoulder, elbow, wrist, or hands can be a sign of arthritis and other musculoskeletal disorders. Therapy may help you restore flexibility in your affected body parts.
- Weaker grip than usual — Poor grip strength can be a sign of shrinking muscles. It’s common as we age but can also be a sign of arthritis, nerve injuries or other conditions.
- Reduced mobility — If you no longer have full range of motion in any part of your upper extremity, a physical therapist may be able to help you restore it.
- Visible muscle loss — Muscle loss is another condition that commonly occurs with aging but can point to other conditions.
- Difficulty in using your hands for simple tasks — This usually points to an unseen loss of muscle or flexibility, which may be treated through hand therapy.
- Worsening of symptoms over time — Some cases of hand pain or stiff joints can be overcome with a few days of rest, but you should talk to a physical therapist if your symptoms continue to worsen and rest doesn’t help.
In many states, you don’t need a doctor’s referral to visit a physical therapist, so you can simply call a hand therapist in your area to schedule an appointment. They’ll evaluate your symptoms and build a customized treatment plan to help you manage your hand pain and improve your strength and mobility.
Alliance PTP is ready to help you find top-notch hand therapy
At Alliance Physical Therapy Partners, we’re proudly bringing together physical therapy practices across the country to help people get the high-quality PT they need. Want to see a physical therapist in person? We can put you in touch with an Alliance PTP partner that’s close to you and that can help you address the pain in your hands.
Not keen on in-person PT sessions or not close to an Alliance PTP partner? No worries. We also offer effective and affordable virtual physical therapy through our Agile Virtual Physical Therapy platform.
Contact our team today so we can help you find the most effective physical therapy services for your injury or condition.