Hand Therapy Week is an integrated national program established by the American Society of Hand Therapy. Its aim is to raise awareness of the hand therapy specialty among various audiences, including primary care providers, surgeons, referral sources and the public. Hand therapists can help bridge the gap from the medical management of a patient’s injury or condition to a successful recovery, allowing the patient to function normally in their daily lives. In addition to patient care, hand therapists often assist providers by performing clinical testing to identify dysfunction to assist or confirm a diagnosis.
Hand therapy evolved from the need for a specialist with the knowledge and experience required to manage the challenging recovery of complex hand and upper extremity injuries. Hand therapists are licensed or registered occupational therapists (OT) or physical therapists (PT) who, through advanced study and experience, specialize in treating individuals with conditions affecting the hands and upper extremities. Hand therapists carry the title of Certified Hand Therapist or CHT.
Hand therapy treats conditions such as arthritis, fractures, amputations, muscle injuries, tendon injuries, bone injuries and breaks, agricultural injuries, nerve injuries and lacerations, artery lacerations and Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD). Common diagnosis that a CHT will treat include: tennis elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome, trigger finger, CMC arthritis, DeQuervain tendinopathy, extensor tendon injury, and Dupuytren disease.
Common therapeutic interventions used by CHTs include: modalities, therapeutic exercise, joint mobilization, soft tissue mobilization, custom orthotic fabrications, and functional activities.
To obtain the CHT credential, a hand therapist must practice as an OT or PT for a minimum of five years, accumulating at least 4,000 hours of hand and upper extremity experience. Hand therapists must also pass a rigorous certification examination to demonstrate their competency in the practice of hand therapy. Every CHT is required to demonstrate continued professional development and competency by recertifying every five years.
Studying for the CHT test is an intensive process that can takes month of preparation. On average, only 55% of individuals who sit for the exam pass. In Delaware there are 28 CHTs, of which five are PTs, one of which works for Tidewater Physical Therapy in Seaford. In Maryland there are a total of 131 CHTs, of which only five practice on the eastern shore and only two of which are PTs, both of whom work for Tidewater Physical Therapy in Salisbury and Ocean Pines.
Tidewater Physical Therapy therapists understand that recovery is a team effort between an orthopedic surgeon, physician and therapist. The goal is to get patients back to their normal, everyday activities and to better their quality of life.