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Hand Therapy & Upper Extremity Occupational Therapy

The basics of hand therapy and upper extremity issues

  • Injuries to the upper extremity (the part of the body that includes the hand, wrist, arm and shoulder) can be very debilitating.
  • Whether needing short-term therapy to recover from an injury or new skills to combat an ongoing condition, occupational and physical therapy are often recommended to help a person increase function and independence.
  • Individualized treatment plans incorporate exercise, ergonomics, body mechanics, activity modification and other techniques that can include environmental and psychosocial aspects based upon a person’s specific needs and issues.
  • Spine & Sport’s team oversees the patient’s program, often recommending exercises and self-management techniques that should be continued at home between appointments.

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What are upper extremity injuries (hand, arm and shoulder)?

Upper extremity issues are injuries or conditions affecting the hand, wrist, elbow, other parts of the arm and shoulder. They are one of the most common types of injuries seen in emergency rooms, ranging from simple finger wounds to complex injuries involving  bones, joints and soft tissue structures.

Our hands and arms do a lot, which means injuries to them can have a major impact on people’s ability to care for themselves and their overall quality of life. Occupational and physical therapy can help a person regain the use of the hands or arms, allowing for an increase in overall safety and independence.

Who can treat upper extremity injuries?

Individuals can address mild injuries such as wrist sprains with rest and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen) or cold packs to reduce swelling. However, they should seek the services of occupational and/or physical therapists to evaluate and treat impairments to improve and recover function. They are also skilled at rehabilitation after surgery. Patients can make an appointment with Spine & Sport Physical Therapy for a consultation and treatment. (See more on occupational therapy treatment below.)

Physicians coordinate care with an occupational and physical therapist to treat more severe injuries following surgery, such as complex fractures or reconstructive surgery. Spine & Sports’ expertise includes rehabilitation and post-operative therapy of the shoulder, elbow, wrist and hand.

Common hand and upper extremity issues treated with occupational therapy


Learn more about orthopedic pain and injuries 

Risks of not treating upper extremity and hand injuries

Like most conditions, the earlier a diagnosis is made and treatment can begin, the faster the recovery time. Upper extremity problems rarely have life-threatening consequences, but failure to manage them properly can result in severe dysfunction. People with untreated injures also risk slower recovery, secondary injuries or lasting loss of function.

What to expect during upper extremity & hand therapy treatment

Occupational and physical therapy consist of safe, effective and noninvasive treatment designed to help patients restore function in the shortest period of time possible after injury or other conditions. Therapy can also help relieve pain and prevent future injury.

The first step is a consultation to identify the issues. Therapists will discuss the problem that the patient is experiencing, daily activities and goals, and her or his health history. They will then examine the affected body part to properly diagnose the particular condition affecting the hand, wrist arm or shoulder. This will likely include testing of a person’s coordination, range of function, pain levels, strength and more.

After this assessment, the therapist will design a customized plan for treatment and education to keep patients on track.

Treatments vary according to the specific injury, its cause, and the health and outlook of the individual. For instance, treatment may combine pain management, individualized strengthening and flexibility programs, manual therapy, modalities and behavior modification.

Occupational therapy for upper extremity issues involves more than addressing physical limitations. Our occupational therapists also analyze psychosocial, cultural and mental factors to identify barriers to activities so they can assist the patient in ways to overcome those barriers.

At Spine & Sport, all our programs combine in-person therapy, at-home exercise and thorough patient education to minimize reinjury and ensure that patients are fully involved in their rehabilitation.

Throughout treatment, therapists will continue to assess a patient’s current level of movement and function and her or his progress – adjusting as needed to meet recovery goals and communicate with the referring physician, if there is one.

Get informed

Speak to a physical therapist today about the right therapy regimen for you and learn more about injuries we treat.

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Spine & Sport clinics offering hand therapy near me

All of our clinics in Southern & Northern California offer hand therapy.

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