How do OTs help you put control back into your hands?
Occupational therapists are trained to treat a variety of hand-related issues that affect people of all ages. They can identify your unique needs and tailor their treatment to your goals for returning to your daily tasks. Occupational therapists use various means, including adaptations, exercises, manual work, and equipment to help you safely return to the most important tasks to you. Some of the most common hand-related issues an occupational therapist will see are arthritis, De Quervains, trigger finger, and carpal tunnel. Continue reading to find out the different techniques occupational therapists use and how to adapt to everyday tasks.
Occupational therapists use soft tissue mobilizations to work on the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and fascia to the body’s injured area to decrease muscle tightness and pain by stretching the tissue. Occupational therapists also use a variety of joint mobilizations to increase movement in joints. These mobilizations include passive movement while applying skilled force in specific directions to improve joint motion and decrease pain.
Occupational therapists will use exercises and stretches to help lengthen and strengthen specific muscles. These stretches target specific muscles that have increased tightness, affecting your ability to complete your daily tasks. Strengthening exercises help patients target weak muscles that are unable to complete tasks successfully. For example, when a patient has carpal tunnel syndrome, the muscles in their hands can become weak; your therapist will give you specific exercises that will increase hand strength.
Adaptations and equipment
Throughout the therapy process, it may be necessary to find ways to adapt your daily tasks to be completed without increasing pain as you continue to treat the issues. Therapists may suggest specific adaptive equipment such as larger handles to improve ease of holding items. If a task is difficult to complete “normally,” occupational therapists can suggest alternative ways to achieve them. Read below for a variety of suggestions on how to adapt some common daily tasks.
If you find it difficult to hold the toothbrush while brushing your teeth, it can be helpful to add padding to the handle to increase the size. Adding padding prevents you from using a tight grip on the toothbrush, which can cause pain. However, if you find it difficult to move the toothbrush around your mouth while brushing, try switching to an electric toothbrush. An electric toothbrush tends to do the brushing for you, decreasing the amount of movement you have to complete.
Buttons and zippers tend to present challenges to people who suffer from hand injuries. A button and zipper aid can help ease the difficulties of buttoning a shirt or zipping a jacket. Putting on socks can also be challenging to complete if a patient has difficulty maintaining their grasp on the sock as they pull it over the foot. A sock aid can allow people to put on socks more efficiently without holding the sock while dragging over the foot.
Tying your shoes
Many people who have hand pain find it difficult to tie their shoes. OTs suggest patients use shoes with velcro or change their shoelaces to no-tie shoelaces.
When you have hand pain, opening jars is an impossible task. Using a non-slip jar and bottle opener makes it easier to open jars and bottles without increasing pain. While cooking, it is essential to take frequent breaks and plan out your meals ahead of time. Planning will prevent overuse and fatigue of the hand. While chopping food items, it can help use a cutting board with spikes that can hold food in place while you are cutting them. It is also important to use lightweight pots and pans to avoid strain when lifting and washing them.
Similar to difficulties with brushing your teeth, holding utensils can be difficult when a person has pain in their hands. Silverware with large handles make it easier to maintain a grasp throughout the meal so that the hand does not have increased pain or fatigue. If you are unable to hold a utensil, I suggest you use a utensil holder. A utensil holder is a cuff that goes around your hand, which you slide a knife, fork, or spoon into so that you can still self-feed without needing to maintain your grasp on the utensil.
While these are all ways to adapt to daily tasks, it is essential to remember that it is ok to ask for help and take frequent breaks throughout the task.