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A Helping Hand from a CHT Can Improve Quality of Life

hand therapy
Mirka Normand, OT, is a hand therapist at L+M Hospital.

For patients with conditions affecting the shoulder, elbow or hand, time with a certified hand therapist (CHT) can be life changing. Whether recovering from surgery or trying to prevent the need for a surgery, a CHT can often provide the therapy needed to improve a condition and, very often, the education to help correct the cause of the condition. 

What is a certified hand therapist?

CHT’s are occupational or physical therapists who have earned additional specialty certification, as they must pass an exam and log 4,000 hours of direct patient care before being certified. 

“People often don’t see a hand therapist until after they’ve had surgery, but there are so many things we can do preventatively,” said Mirka Normand, OT, a hand therapist at L+M Hospital. “We encourage people to talk to their medical provider to see if a referral to a CHT could be beneficial.” 

Normand, who is pursuing a research PhD focused on arthritis of the thumb, says time with a CHT may help some patients avoid common issues down the line.

“A hairdresser constantly using a brush and scissors is someone who might develop arthritis in their thumb,” she said. “Sometimes, we can help patients make adjustments in their biomechanics so they can avoid a surgery later in life. Knowledge is power and education is the first line of defense.” 

hand therapy

Amy O'Brien and Samantha Limner are certified hand therapists at Westerly Hospital.

Other conditions treated by CHTs include:

  • Shoulder pain
  • Tennis elbow
  • Arthritis
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Tendonitis
  • Trigger finger, which is when a finger sticks in a bent position.
  • Tenosynovitis, which is inflammation of the protective sheath that surrounds the tendons going to the hand.

Samantha Limner, OT, a certified hand therapist at Westerly Hospital, says she has also worked with patients who have suffered strokes; to see them regain use of their hands can be “exciting and tremendously rewarding,” she added. 

Amy O’Brien, OT, another Westerly Hospital certified hand therapist, adds that everyone needs their hands to be at their best. 

“It’s why I’m so passionate about helping our patients heal, helping them along that journey of recovery to reduce their pain so they can get back to their best quality of life,” she said. 

“Our hands and arms are extensions of our individual personalities,” Normand said. “Losing function of a finger, hand, elbow or shoulder will interfere with important self-care, domestic and work tasks, but also limit our expression of self. Anyone with a limiting condition should talk to their doctor and take that first step. Don’t wait until you need surgery. The earlier the intervention, the better the outcome.”