Hands and Occupation

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“Man, through the use of his hands, as they are energized by mind and will, can influence the state of his own health.” This famous quote from Mary Reilly, delivered in her 1961 Eleanor Clarke Slagle Lecture, is powerful.

Take a minute to think about upper extremity dysfunction. How would your life suddenly change if you lost the use of your hands? What if you had a condition, such as arthritis where you gradually had less use of your hands? Hands play a vital role in our well being because of their dexterity and use as self expression. Hand injury affects a person physically, psychologically, and financially.

A major focus of occupational therapy is rehabilitation related to impairments of the upper extremity. Occupational therapy practitioners treat individuals with conditions and injuries of the upper extremity including fractures, amputations, tendon and nerve injuries, complex traumatic injuries and replants, arthritis, burns, hemiplegia, spinal cord injuries, and pain.

Hand therapists are trained in wound care, orthopedic protocols, joint mobilization, use of physical agent modalities, therapeutic exercise and activity, sensory re-education, scar and edema management, pain management, and orthotic application. In the early stages of client recovery, occupational therapy orthopedic practice is often geared towards tissue healing.

However, most clients experiencing upper extremity injuries have occupational deficits almost immediately. The majority of certified hand therapists have also been trained as occupational therapists and can combine their knowledge of medicine and occupation-based practice to deliver whole person healthcare.

When occupational and hand therapists use an occupation-based and client-centered approach, goals are set collaboratively between therapist and client. Clients benefit by being able to do what they want to be able to do in daily life. The client sees therapy as being meaningful and related to his/her needs. When working with individuals with limited or no hand function, acknowledging the psychosocial aspects of the injury is crucial to recovery. In whole person healthcare, the key to health is found in the interconnectedness of body, mind, and spirit.

By: Dr. Cindy Hayden

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