Hand Therapy

The hands are a particularly common site for traumatic injuries, including those from falls, automobile accidents and sports activity. The hands are also prone to certain degenerative conditions, such as arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome, that may be related to wear and tear, or repetitive motion. Hand therapy is a discipline that treats injuries and conditions affecting the hands, elbows and wrists.

Performed as an outpatient treatment, hand therapy focuses on restoring full function and a maximized range of motion to areas of the upper extremities. In addition to treating injuries and conditions, hand therapy may be recommended for a patient who has had a stroke or undergone surgery for a condition such as arthritis or Dupuytren's contracture. Hand-therapy programs are conducted by certified hand therapists, who create customized treatment plans for their patients.

Benefits of Hand Therapy

Hand therapy is often recommended for patients who have injuries or conditions that affect their hands, wrists, elbows or shoulders. It can be highly beneficial for relieving pain and swelling, as well as for restoring strength in the upper extremities.

Hand therapy is used to treat a wide range of injuries and conditions, including the following:

  • Arthritis
  • Sports injuries
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Nerve injuries
  • Fractures or dislocations
  • Cubital tunnel syndrome
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Traumatic hand injuries
  • Tennis elbow
  • Tendon injuries
  • Amputations
  • Burns
  • Frostbite
  • Repetitive-motion injuries
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS)
  • Dupuytren's contracture (usually develops gradually in the ring or pinky finger)

Hand Therapy Programs

A hand therapy program usually comprises a combination of physical exercises and nonsurgical treatments designed to restore a patient's strength, and relieve pain associated with injury, surgery or a degenerative condition. It is designed to help the patient maintain range of motion, flexibility and strength in the hand and arm, as well as minimize discomfort. A hand therapist also educates the patient on how he or she can include at-home-care methods to achieve pain relief.

Hand therapy treatments are wide-ranging, and may include the following:

  • Custom-made splints (to protect or prevent an injury)
  • Pain management or control methods
  • Ice pack therapy
  • Aqua therapy
  • Strengthening exercises (utilizing either light weights or resistance bands)
  • Scar and wound management
  • Massage therapy
  • Moist-heat therapy
  • Medication to reduce pain or swelling
  • Sensory reeducation (for nerve injuries)
  • Joint-protection methods
  • Hand-stretching exercises
  • Injury management and prevention
  • Clay or putty therapy (improves dexterity/increases range of motion)
  • Training in daily tasks that require use of the hands
  • Neuromuscular reeducation
  • Home exercise programs

Hand Therapy Outcome

Hand therapy programs offer patients many benefits. For most patients, hand therapy is extremely effective in relieving long-term pain, and optimizing function in the hands and upper extremities. Even patients with the most complex hand or upper-extremity injuries may benefit from intense hand therapy programs.

Because the hands are essential to so many daily activities, hand therapy is a valuable way to preserve a patient's independence. Tailored to meet the specific needs of the individual, a hand therapy program can benefit a person of any age.

Additional Resources