Getting Ready for Your First Hand Therapist Appointment? Here’s What to Expect

Closeup of a man working with his hand therapist

It’s normal to feel uneasy about a first visit to see a new specialist. Rest assured, though. At an initial appointment with a hand therapist, you’ll share your goals, spend time getting to know them and go through a low-stress evaluation.   

Typically, a hand therapist will start by interviewing you to learn more about your condition, diagnosis, objective measurement, and daily activities so that you can set the right goals—together—to increase your ability to perform daily tasks. 

Keep reading to learn more about the art and science of hand therapy, its benefits, and what to expect at your first therapy appointment. 

What Does a Hand Therapist Do?

Hand therapy is a type of occupational therapy. And, though its practitioners are called hand therapists, these experts do more than just treat and rehabilitate people’s hands. 

Hand therapists also help those with shoulder, elbow, forearm, and wrist conditions—caused by medical disorders, aging, illness, or injury—return to their highest level of function. They act as advisors focused on what matters to you, using their special training to help patients dealing with a wide range of issues from finger stiffness with customized exercises and therapies and providing guidance for using tools and gadgets (like orthotics).

Who Benefits From Seeing a Hand Therapist?

Therapy helps people with complex hand and joint injuries, as well as those who want to improve their form to prevent repetitive motion injuries. 

Work from home? Avoid hand pain with these desk set-up tips

What Makes a Great Hand Therapist?

Becoming a certified hand therapist is hard work, requiring dedication and extensive knowledge of anatomy, biomechanics, and physics. Certification requires completing three years of hands-on experience (including at least 4,000 hours with direct practice in hand therapy), as well as passing a comprehensive board exam.

“There is something truly special about people who choose hand therapy as a career,” says Danielle Sparks, DHS, MOT, OTR, CHT. 

Through her leadership role as the vice president of the American Society of Hand Therapists and director of IHTSC’s therapy center, Sparks has seen first-hand what it takes to be a great hand therapist, and that’s passion. “Patients get optimal results when they work with hand therapists that truly care about what they do.”

6 Things That Will Happen at Your First Hand Therapy Appointment

1. Arrival and Check-In

You’ll fill out paperwork and provide insurance information. Many insurance plans cover some occupational therapy deemed medically necessary. Check with your insurance provider to see if you need a referral to qualify for coverage.

2. Initial Assessment

Come prepared to provide details about your:

  • Medical history
  • Current physical condition
  • Home and work environments
  • Specific movements that are hard for you
  • Frustrations and fears you encounter in your daily life
  • Photos of your home and office
  • Support devices you use or want to use

You might find it helpful to bring notes with you to your appointment so you can answer any questions your hand therapist may ask about these things. 

3. Goal Setting

Hand therapy is always collaborative and personalized. You will have input on your goals, and your therapist will gauge how realistic they are, helping to prioritize them based on your necessities and lifestyle.

Many therapists use the S-M-A-R-T model for goal-setting, which means that a patient’s goal must be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based. 

4. Hand Therapy Exercises

Hand therapists use structured assessment tests, which differ based on the patient’s condition. For example, if you’re a patient who had shoulder surgery after a fall injury, the assessment you go through with your therapist will differ from that of an athlete with jersey finger.

During this first evaluation, your hand therapist will  ask you to demonstrate your range of motion, strength, or motor skills in order to assess your current ability level. Any exercises during this initial evaluation are usually simple. The therapist documents the results and uses them as a benchmark to measure progress once treatment begins.

5. Education and Advice

The hand therapist knows this process is unfamiliar and may be confusing and stressful. Communication and education are vital to your success. That’s why, during your first appointment, your therapist will spend time talking to you about:

  • How long it’s likely to take
  • How many hours a week
  • What to expect as a rate of progress

This initial meeting lets you get the info you need to feel more confident about starting hand therapy. Prepare a list of your top questions in advance and bring something to write down answers.

6. Scheduling and Follow-Up Plans

Before your appointment wraps up, schedule your next sessions and make sure you understand the long-term treatment plan. 

How to Get the Most Out of Each Hand Therapy Session

When it comes to health, some things are out of your control. But with hand therapy, you play a significant role in your success. 

Your feedback is critical to reaching your goals. Be honest if:

  • A movement feels uncomfortable
  • Your circumstances or environment changes
  • You’re unsure about what to do between appointments
  • You change your mind about anything already discussed

You can try many therapy techniques. Your therapist wants you to find the ones that work for you so you can succeed together. 

Each year, occupational therapy helps millions of people adapt to new circumstances. With the right plan and therapist by your side, it can help you do what you love, complete everyday tasks and work tasks safely,, and reach your goals.

Start Therapy at IHTSC

The Indiana Hand to Shoulder Center is the largest therapy center in the country focused on rehabilitating the hand, wrist, elbow, and shoulder. Our highly skilled team excels at injury rehabilitation and post-surgery occupational therapy and provides care from eight locations throughout central Indiana:

What It’s Like to Be an IHTSC Therapy Center Patient

After a car accident left our patient Kay N. with two broken wrists and other injuries, post-surgery therapy was crucial for a fast recovery so she could return to taking care of her disabled husband and daughter. 

“Working with my therapist was fascinating,” she said. “I had appointments at IHTSC once a week. I used all kinds of devices to stretch and increase my range of motion. Hand therapy helped me regain function faster than I estimated.”

Schedule a Hand Therapy Appointment

Let IHTSC create your personalized plan to restore function and reduce obstacles to your quality of life. To make an appointment for an evaluation with a hand therapist, call us at (317) 875-9105 or request an appointment online.

Schedule Now

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Disclaimer: The materials on this website have been prepared for informational purposes only and do not constitute advice. You should not act or rely upon any medical information on this website without a physician’s advice. The information contained within this website is not intended to serve as a substitution for a thorough examination from a qualified healthcare provider. The display of this information is not intended to create a health care provider-patient relationship between the Indiana Hand to Shoulder Center and you.