What intricate abilities lie in the palms of our hands! Each day our hands perform an incredible number of tasks without a second thought, from the simplicity of touching a loved one to performing complex work tasks or enjoying life through sport, music and leisure activities.
The hand is considered one of the most complicated structures in the human body. However, this complexity and its involvement in our day-to-day activities means it is more prone to injury, and more difficult to recover from. It’s often only when we have a problem or an injury with one of our hands that we truly appreciate just how sophisticated they are.
International Hand Therapy Week (June 1-7) is a chance to celebrate the art and science of hand therapy, the practice of considered evaluation and assessment of injury or dysfunction in the arm or hand to establish a specific and targeted treatment program.
We all know that doctors and surgeons will carry out tests, provide diagnoses, and perform operations, but it’s the hand therapist who has the vital role in successfully restoring hand function. In addition, they enable the patient’s cognitive and emotional adjustment required following a hand injury to return injured workers to their jobs, sports professionals to the field, and children to school.
Hand therapists are registered occupational therapists and physiotherapists who have undergone an additional level of specialist training in upper limb rehabilitation over a period of up to 5 years. They must maintain their high standards through continuing education and clinical practice in order to receive and maintain full accreditation with the Australian Hand Therapy Association. Currently, there are around 400 accredited hand therapists in Australia.
Prior to World War 2, the idea of hand therapy as a specialised field did not exist. However, plastic and orthopaedic surgeons treating wounded soldiers with severe hand and upper limb injuries began working with therapists in military hospitals and developed specialised splints/orthoses and mobilisation treatment protocols. With advancements in modern surgical techniques, patient outcomes following surgery and hand therapy are now much more refined.
If you’re seeing a hand therapist following surgery, it will often be a joint visit with your surgeon so that a co-ordinated treatment plan can be commenced. You may find you leave the appointment wearing a protective thermoplastic splint/orthosis, which may or may not feature wires, elastic bands, Velcro or other ingenious mechanisms to encourage movement. One thing is certain: hand therapists are incredibly creative and handy when it comes to constructing the right splint for you!
“Hand therapy will assist with wound care and techniques to minimise scar tissue, restore movement and tendon gliding, minimise pain and swelling and decrease sensitivity,” says Brisbane hand therapist, Colette Zemljic. She says that in her professional experience, early intervention with a patient actively involved almost always leads to the best outcomes.
“Working hands are vital to our day-to-day lives,” she says. “Hand therapists work with you to achieve your personal goals to get back to the activities that make your life meaningful.”
So, if you want the best chance for your hand post-injury, listen to your hand therapist, do what they say, and thank a therapist today!