Occupational Therapy is a skilled treatment that helps individuals achieve independence in all facets of their lives. The occupational therapist is a therapist who, through advanced study, specializes in rehabilitating patients with conditions affecting the hands and upper extremities. The therapist's high degree of specialization requires yearly continuing education in addition to a bachelor's or master's degree, a supervised internship, and successful completion of a national exam.
A hand therapist works with patients with a variety of upper extremity disorders. These patients include those who may have been affected by an accident or trauma resulting in wounds, scars, burns, injured tendons or nerves, amputations, and fractures/broken bones. Many patients who see a hand therapist also suffer from chronic problems such as arthritis, lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow), or carpal tunnel syndrome.
The treatment provided by a qualified hand therapist may include wound/scar management, edema control, splint fabrication, ADL training (activities of daily living), and therapeutic exercise to increase motion, dexterity, or strength. When skill or strength cannot be developed or improved, a hand therapist may be able to offer creative solutions or resources for maximizing a patient's ADL independence. A hand therapist is also skilled in adapting daily tasks, routines, or a patient's home to maximize function and minimize pain during your daily activities.
Following are some general suggestions for adapting your activities at home or at work. Making some changes in the way you plan or carry out tasks can prevent pain and injury as well as protecting your joints from damage.
1. Do 10 minutes of stretching and exercise to warm up your joints and muscles prior to activity.
2. Check your position. If you feel uncomfortable as you are doing a task, you may not be positioning yourself and/or your work correctly. Your elbows should usually be positioned close to your body. Wrists should be only slightly bent. If you spend a lot of time on the phone, you should use a headset or speaker phone instead of cradling the phone between your head and shoulder. Always make sure the chairs you sit on provide adequate back support and appropriate height.
3. Pace yourself and vary your tasks. Limit repetitive motions to periods of 15 minutes or less. Pinching, gripping, pulling, or lifting for long periods of time can cause pain and swelling.
4. Use the right tools. Tools with longer handles will help you to avoid bending. Soft, nonslip, built-up handles will protect joints from excess pressure by relaxing your grip.
Occupational/hand therapy can reduce pain and other symptoms through exercise, splinting, and patient education in order to prepare patients for returning to regular activities at home or at work.