Most people take for granted the ability to use their hands for everyday activities and suffer a great loss of independence if that ability is taken away by injury or disease. At Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School, Certified Hand Therapists (CHTs) work with patients to help them successfully regain the use of their elbows, wrists and hands.
“We work closely with patients to educate, guide and support them as they strive to return to everyday activities such as folding laundry, writing, returning to work or playing a musical instrument,” says Chuck Deveikas, Supervisor of Occupational Therapy at Mount Auburn Hospital.
According to Mr. Deveikas, hand therapy is a specialized form of occupational therapy. “There is specific criteria required to become a CHT,” he explains. “Individuals must have a minimum of two years of hand therapy experience and five years total experience before taking and passing a comprehensive certification test. CHTs are experts in treating the elbow, wrist and hand and have extensive knowledge of the anatomy of the arm and hand.”
Ailments to the upper extremity generally fall into one of these categories:
· Fractures, dislocations, ligament sprains and muscle strains.
· Trauma, including incidents where a patient has injuries such as lacerated tendons or nerves from a knife or table saw accident, for example.
· Arthritis, which frequently occurs in the base of the thumb.
· Repetitive stress injuries, which are mainly due to repetitive movements of the upper extremity such as assembly line or computer work.
“We see a wide spectrum of injuries effecting the elbow, wrist and hand,” says Mr. Deveikas. “People do not realize how much they use their hands during an average day until they have a hand injury and are severely limited in what they can do. It takes hard work and commitment for patients to get their life back to what it was prior to the injury.”
During therapy sessions, patients are educated on how to manage their symptoms and increase function. “Therapists will issue a variety of exercises to increase the range of motion, strength and fine motor coordination,” says Mr. Deveikas. “We also address sensory nerve impairments through desensitization and retraining.”
CHTs commonly use splints to immobilize the elbow, wrist or hand to provide rest for the injury. “We fabricate splints from thermoplastic material and custom fit the splints to their hand,” he says.
According to Mr. Deveikas, it is important for people with elbow, wrist or hand injuries to receive help from a CHT. “People who do not get help may notice increased pain and decreased function in addition to general loss of range of motion, strength and coordination,” he says. “They might not return to full function and their everyday activities will be impaired. It is amazing how much people rely on their hands without even knowing it until they have an injury.”
For a free Mount Auburn Hospital physician directory, please call us at 617-499-5094.