What Is Hand Physical Therapy?

Hand physical therapy is a specialized rehabilitation technique done primarily on patients who have functional conditions that affect their hand and upper extremities but whose function and range of motion remain intact. Hand physical therapy enables patients to regain more mobility, move better, and go back to a full, active life. The purpose of the therapy is to increase the function and range of motion of the patient’s hand and forearm through the use of targeted exercises. The goals of this therapeutic technique are to reduce pain, minimize disability, increase range of motion, increase strength and muscle coordination, and reduce stress-related disorders.

Patients with minor hand and forearm injuries can recover with routine care following an initial assessment and screening. Hand physical therapy specialists evaluate and diagnose hand and forearm injuries and refer their patients to physical therapists for post-surgical rehabilitation. Initial treatments may include ultrasound therapy using transducers to determine joint fluid tightness, soft tissue mobilization, deep heat massage, electrical stimulation, application of cold compresses, application of ointments and supplements, stretching and strengthening exercises. For some patients, immobilization is beneficial after initial treatment to decrease inflammation. Patients with multiple injuries are often referred to multiple specialists for post-surgical rehabilitation.

After surgery, hand therapy involves the use of splints to stabilize the wrist, forearm, hand, forearm, or elbow, and stretching to stretch out tendons and muscles. The splints are custom-made to take into account specific body structures and positions. They are used to prevent excessive movement and promote healing. The splints are often custom-made for one particular patient; however, splints are recommended for all patients after fractures, arthritis, dislocations, sprains, strains, carpal tunnel syndrome, and other conditions that limit range of motion. The splints are frequently used in combination with bracelets and hand guards, if needed.

Upper extremity physical therapy (OT) focuses on rehabilitation of conditions affecting the upper extremities, such as ulnar neuropathy, mallet finger, hammer toes, diabetic neuropathy, facial atrophy, congenital neuropathy, laryngeal disorders, or musculoskeletal conditions affecting the neck, back, or shoulders. Conditions affecting the upper extremities can be divided into two categories: primary and secondary. Primary conditions affect the muscles, tendons, ligaments, or bones of the upper extremity. Treatment is directed at improving these areas and preventing atrophy (wasting) of the tissues. Secondary conditions affect the nerves, tendons, ligaments, or bones of the upper extremity and require specialized intervention to treat the primary problem. Treatment involves therapeutic exercise, devices, braces, or devices to improve function, and immobilization of affected muscles or tissues.

A certified hand therapist must be licensed in the state in which he or she practices. He or she must pass a specific exam that is based on standards from the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). Further requirements may include a master’s degree from an accredited institution of higher learning or completion of relevant training and experience. Once a therapist has met the licensing requirements, he or she will be able to diagnose and treat patients using techniques that focus on the relationship between anatomy and physiology.

Therapists who specialize in hand therapy can treat pain anywhere in the hand from minor to major issues. Many patients with disorders such as diabetes or muscular conditions affecting the shoulder, wrist, forearm, or upper back also find relief through this type of therapy. Because pain can be caused by various conditions, a wide variety of techniques are used to treat these conditions. Examples include heat and cold therapies, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, manual massage, traction, and chiropractic management.

Certification of physical therapy also helps therapists to prevent further injuries and save time for their patients. Therapists who receive certification are required to take a number of continuing education courses every two years or else they lose their license to practice. Students pursuing this career must also complete a minimum of eight hours of supervised clinical practice. The classes cover a variety of topics such as anatomy, pediatrics, physiology, diagnostic techniques, counseling, physical therapy principles, and ethics. Students learn how to plan treatments, evaluate and record improvements, and select the appropriate therapy equipment. Students are also taught how to perform physical therapy procedures, including manipulating patients’ joints and muscles.

Hand physical therapy can help those who have suffered a hand injury or muscle condition that limits their movements or mobility. This type of therapy can also provide relief for individuals who are experiencing pain or discomfort due to long-term medical conditions. Hand therapists can work with patients of all ages, although it is more common for them to see people in their late teens or early twenties.

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