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OT’s uses and benefits are little known among many. In fact, when you Google “occupational therapy,” the top question that appears is, “What exactly does an occupational therapist do?” 

When people experience pain in their hands or arms that just won’t go away, they often turn to a primary care provider or hand surgeon. Both experts typically refer patients to occupational therapists following initial treatment (which, especially with surgeons, can be very costly due to expensive testing and office visits).  In reality, OT is just as effective as the first step for treatment and significantly less expensive than conventional options, making it a favorable choice for many patients. 

For that nagging pain in your hand or arm, I urge you to consider starting your treatment with a hand therapist. 

Hand therapists are occupational therapists who, through advanced study and experience, specialize in the evaluation and treatment of individuals with upper extremity injuries. Whether it’s a repetitive strain injury from computer or device use, numbness in your hands that wakes you up at night, or pain in your thumbs while gardening, a hand therapist can help. 

Hand therapists have extensive knowledge and experience in treating upper extremity injuries, so they can provide a thorough evaluation to assess what the root cause of your symptoms may be and provide next steps for therapy. Typically, therapy begins with patient education of the pertinent anatomy, therapeutic home exercises and modifications to pain triggering activities in order to promote healing and pain relief. A hand therapist may recommend custom orthotic fabrication to protect injured hands as well as provide manual therapy, joint mobilizations and therapeutic modalities. 

Collaborating on goals and personalizing your recovery plan is a primary focus of occupation-based hand therapy. Your hand therapist will work with you to establish therapeutic goals to help you return to the functional tasks that are most important to you. The activities completed in therapy often simulate the functional tasks of daily life, including self-care, work and leisure.  Not only is this approach effective and non-invasive, but it can also be fun! Hand therapists provide hands-on, cost-effective care to help relieve your symptoms and get you back to doing the things you love as quickly and efficiently as possible. 

Depending on the state, many hand therapists can evaluate and treat individuals without a referral. So, instead of incurring extra costs by turning to a hand surgeon first for diagnosis, find your local physical therapy clinic to learn more about occupational hand therapy and how it may be able to benefit you so you can return to living your best life, pain-free. 

Christy Green, OTR/L, CHT, is a certified hand therapist at Cascade Rehabilitation in Everett, WA. 

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