Hand therapy, a specialty practice area of occupational therapy, is
typically concerned with treating orthopedic-based upper-extremity
conditions to optimize the functional use of the hand and arm.
Conditions seen by the occupational therapy practitioner specializing
in this area include fractures of the hand or arm, lacerations and
amputations, burns, and surgical repairs of tendons and nerves.
Acquired conditions such as tendonitis, rheumatoid arthritis and
osteoarthritis, and carpal tunnel syndrome also are treated by hand
specialists. Occupational therapy practitioners who treat clients with
conditions of the hand or arm can do so without additional formal
education in most states. However, many practitioners choose to gain
several years of experience before treating hand clients, and therapists
may choose to become specially certified through the Hand Therapy
Occupation-Based Hand Therapy
Hand therapy typically addresses the biomechanical issues underlying
upper-extremity conditions. However, occupational therapy
practitioners bring an added dimension to this specialty area. They
use an occupation-based and client-centered approach that identifies
the participation needs of the client—what he or she wants to be able
to do in daily life that is fulfilling and meaningful—and emphasizes
the performance of desired activities as the primary goal of therapy.
What Does an Occupation-Based Approach to Hand
Therapy Look Like?
The client–therapist relationship is key to an occupation-based
approach. Occupational therapists begin intervention with a
client-centered assessment tool, such as the Canadian Occupational
Performance Measure.4 This tool will give an occupational profile of
the client that highlights functional deficits and desired occupational
goals rather than focusing solely on the physical components of
• Laying strong groundwork through the initial evaluation
focuses intervention in two ways. First, the therapist will
know immediately what things the client values and enjoys,
and what he or she needs to “get back to.” This groundwork
enables the therapist and client to collaboratively set goals
that reflect what the client needs and wants to do. Second,
the client will understand that therapy is addressing his or her
whole body, mind, and lifestyle—including any psychological
and social issues—and not just an isolated injury.
Information on this page retrieved from The American Occupational Therapy Association Inc.