Physical therapists often help individuals restore many parts of their bodies they need to function – knees, backs, ankles, hips, and much more. But, nothing may be more important than restoring someone’s hand. 

Whether it’s typing, eating, driving, lifting, or getting dressed, hands are essential parts of our everyday life.  Lydia Hohman, a certified hand therapist with ATI Physical Therapy,, explains how hand therapy can help people get back to living – whether they suffer from a chronic condition like arthritis or a more acute injury such as a broken bone.

Lydia, like many other certified hand therapists, is an occupational therapist by trade rather than a physical therapist. While there are many similarities between the two professions, an occupational therapist in an outpatient hand therapy setting focuses on evaluating and improving a person’s activities of daily living, particularly those related to upper extremity use. To celebrate April being National Occupational Therapy Month, we're divulging some myths and truths about hand therapy.

Myth: Hand therapy can’t help my arthritis because there is no “cure.”

Truth: There is no cure, but hand therapy can help you learn new ways to cope with your arthritis to minimize pain. Within four to five visits, a hand therapist can evaluate your condition and suggest various types of activity modifications to help you perform daily tasks with minimal pain. In addition, a hand therapist will suggest at-home strengthening and stretching exercises to help you manage your symptoms independently.

Myth: Hand therapy is just for treating hands and fingers.

Truth: Most hand therapists treat a range of upper extremity injuries – including shoulders,  elbows,  wrists, hands, and fingers. Different parts of the upper extremities are all connected to one another, so a broken wrist may cause shoulder pain if someone hasn’t moved their arm much after breaking their wrist. Hand therapists understand how each part works together and can do full rehabilitation.

Myth: If I have arthritis and go to a hand therapist to learning coping mechanisms, I can just share the program and exercises with my husband who also has arthritis.

Truth: What may work for one patient may not work for another. During an initial visit regarding arthritis, a hand therapist will do a full evaluation to determine what you have issues with and subsequently address each of those issues. Every program is tailored to be most beneficial to each individual.

Myth: Hand therapy is painful.

Truth: While hands are a very sensitive area, hand therapists understand that and are trained to respect the delicate healing tissues in the hand. Although some pain may occur as a natural part of the healing process, hand therapists do their best to help you return to full function while minimizing the pain whenever possible in the process.

Myth: I have to wait until my bone or wound heals until I can begin hand therapy.

Truth: Hand therapists help the healing process by starting therapy very soon after surgery. If a patient has plates, screws, or stitches put in, therapists can begin rehabilitation within a week of surgery to begin restoring function. Many times, the first few weeks are spent minimizing swelling and encouraging gentle motion before moving on to strengthening exercises. Depending on the severity of an injury, a patient may spend anywhere from two to four months in hand therapy.