What Does a Hand Therapist Do?

M. West

A hand therapist job involves the rehabilitation of a patient’s hands, whose functioning has been impaired through illness or injury. The process includes patient assessment, followed by the formulation and implementation of an individualized treatment plan, along with documentation of improvements. Therapists employ treatment modalities of exercise, strengthening, and behavior management, as well as wound care, electrical therapy, and manual therapy. In addition to direct patient care, these professionals are involved in various other duties, such as communication, quality improvement, and personal development.


The central component of hand therapist duties revolves around a comprehensive approach to patient care. This involves the prescription and fabrication of splints, which are orthotic devices used to maintain range of joint motion and prevent deformity. The therapist may also prescribe assistive devices and equipment to improve function and increase independence. Making home and hospital visits may sometimes be required to ascertain patient functioning outside of the clinic setting. When necessary, this professional will also make referrals to other agencies that can provide a service for the patient.

A model of a human hand.
A model of a human hand.

Communication and information management is another part of a hand therapist’s job description. This professional must share information with the billing department and third-party providers, as well as with other members of the healthcare team, such as doctors, nurses, and other therapists. They should collect statistical data and, when necessary, send reports to appropriate organizations. Other informational tasks include archiving patient histories, while protecting patient confidentiality.

Additional hand therapist duties involve the areas of quality improvement and professional development. Therapists assist in the education and training of undergraduate students, and also engage in their own professional development to keep up-to-date with changes and innovations in their field. They adhere to infection control and safety procedures, as well as take part in quality improvement procedures that enhance patient care.

Hand therapist requirements consist of education, certification, and various personality traits. Most members of this profession hold a master’s degree in occupational or physical therapy, and some may have attended a certification course, including studies in anatomy, therapeutic intervention, and hand pathology. Although the requirements to obtain certification will vary with the region, some mandate 4,000 practice hours and five years of experience. Therapists should maintain membership in national and regional professional associations, which will help their credentials stay current and foster contact with colleagues. Strong interpersonal skills are needed, including the ability to motivate patients having physical impairments.

A hand.
A hand.

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