Why am I Referred to an Occupational Therapist or a Hand Therapist
Posted on 4/15/2019 by Karrianna Gallagher, OTD, OTR/L, CHT
Occupational therapist? I already have a job…
The term ‘occupation’ is more general than what we typically think. Because a third of our day is spent at work, the word ‘occupation’ has taken on that set meaning. This is interesting given that another one third of our day is spent sleeping. So why isn’t sleeping considered an occupation? This is likely because everyone sleeps, and when you think of your occupation you think of something that is uniquely you. But what is uniquely you is actually a collection of occupations, not just the one that takes up the most time. You could be a mom, teacher, gardener, friend, sculptor, chef, etc. These are the roles that you identify with and the occupations that occupy your time.
Occupations are how we define ourselves and how we experience life. It’s likely that some occupations take up more of your time than others, but that doesn’t mean you identify with them any less. Each of them is part of who you are.
We live our most fulfilling life when we are able to participate in all of our valued occupations to the fullest extent. Now, imagine breaking your wrist or tearing your rotator cuff. Suddenly you can’t hold your baby, write a grocery list, chop vegetables, press down piano keys, throw a ball or achieve a full night of pain-free sleep (which we all know was already being interrupted by the baby!). Every part of who you are and the way you define yourself as a person is impacted by this injury.
There are many members of the health care team who will play a part in helping you heal. One of the team members may be an occupational therapist. Occupational therapists have the knowledge of your injury accompanied by the expertise in analyzing the necessary activities in order to guide your rehabilitation program. Their goal is to ensure your range of motion, strength and endurance are restored in the safest, most efficient way so you can get back to fully engaging in all of the occupations you want and need to live your best life.
Hand therapist? But I tore my rotator cuff…
A hand therapist is an occupational or physical therapist who has specialized knowledge in the upper limb - shoulders, arms and hands. The anatomy and mechanics of hands and arms is extremely complex and intricately connected, which is why it requires specialization. Think about all of the various movements you use your arms and hands for – turning a door knob, using a fork, tucking in your shirt, etc. Even seemingly simple tasks will be impacted by an injury to the smallest finger bone.
What’s the difference in a hand therapist who is an occupational therapist and a physical therapist?
More than 80 percent of certified hand therapists are occupational therapists, the other 20 percent are physical therapists. Both occupational and physical hand therapists have similar goals in terms of helping you heal from injury. The main premise of occupational therapy is the therapeutic use of meaningful occupation as a form of treatment. The idea here is to motivate a person to bend their elbow so they are able to feed themselves. In addition, occupational therapy has its roots in mental health. They can address not only the physical injury, but the emotional components as well.
So, now you know… occupational therapists don’t help you find jobs and hand therapists don’t just treat hands. Occupational therapists who specialize in hand therapy are creative and caring shoulder, arm and hand experts. They take you on a rehabilitation journey where your ability to return to your unique collection of meaningful occupations is the finish line.
By: Karrianna Gallagher, OTD, OTR/L, CHT. Karrianna is an occupational therapist and certified hand therapist with NovaCare Rehabilitation in Minnesota. She has experience in rehabilitation non-surgical and surgical shoulder, arm and hand injuries.