Is Hand Therapy for Me?
/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2021

Is Hand Therapy for Me?

Made up of the wrist, palm, and fingers, the human hand consists of 27 bones, 27 joints, 34 muscles, 100+ ligaments and tendons, and numerous nerves. Delicate and complex, the hand’s structure and multiple moving parts are what allow us to do hundreds of daily tasks. Which is why when problems arise, it’s important to get care from someone who has a deep understanding of the mechanics of the hand.

What’s a Certified Hand Therapist?
One of just two Certified Hand Therapists (CHTs) in southern Vermont, SVHC’s Michaelia St. Jacques says two of the key advantages of seeing an occupational therapist (OT) who is a certified hand therapists are the narrow focus of a CHT’s work and the amount of training required.

“To become a CHT, you must complete 4,000 hours of direct practice experience in hand therapy and sit for a rigorous exam,” says St. Jacques. “While other rehab professionals may be skilled at addressing upper extremity injuries, in the course of any given day, they may also treat with issues related to knees, hips, shoulders, etc. A CHT’s focus is 100% on the hand, all day, every day.

“In addition to the training and exam, CHTs must also demonstrate continued professional development and competency by recertifying every five years. This requires staying current on advanced surgical techniques, postoperative therapy, and therapy programs specific to the hand to ensure the best possible outcomes for patients.”

Who benefits from hand therapy? As St. Jacques notes, working with a CHT can benefit individuals coping with a wide range of issues related to the hand.

“I see patients both pre- and post-operative,” she says. “Their issues range from carpal tunnel syndrome and work injuries to arthritis and loss of strength or lacerations. In all cases, the goal is to help them regain as much use of their hand as possible and improve their quality of life.”

What’s involved?
St. Jacques adds, she sees most patients for one or two times a week for anywhere from 1 – 3 months.

“We always start with a baseline assessment to determine where they are in terms of strength and range of motion,” she says. “I then teach them exercises that move them towards their goals and provide them with visual guides and additional exercises to do at home. On the next visit, we re-assess and adjust the program to keep them progressing.”

She adds that in many instances patients also receive an orthosis, a splint custom fit to the patient’s body and needs. “Particularly after surgery, an orthosis is critical to recovery,” she says, “As the patient progresses with exercises, we basically wean them out of the orthosis.”

How does it help?
St. Jacques concludes, “It’s hard to appreciate just how much you use your hands in a given day.  From brushing your teeth and using a phone to opening a door and putting away a dinner plate, your hands are essential to accomplishing tasks both simple and complex. To lose any ability can be physically challenging and mentally frustrating. It’s incredibly gratifying to work with patients to overcome limitations and regain their independence.”

To learn more, call the SVMC Outpatient Rehabilitation Department at 802-447-5140.


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