When you’re referred to therapy at OrthoVirginia, you may be working with a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, or hand therapist. What is the difference between these three types? How do you know who you’re seeing?

What is physical therapy?

Physical therapists diagnose and treat people of all ages to reduce pain, improve movement, prevent disability, and improve quality of life.

Physical therapists work in hospitals, nursing homes, community centers, schools, outpatient clinics, sports & fitness facilities, private homes and more.  They will have their Bachelors, Masters, or a Doctorate.  Physical therapists may specialize to improve their skills and knowledge in a specific area. 

Physical therapists have a profound effect on people’s lives. They can help people achieve fitness goals, regain or maintain their independence, and lead active lives.

According to physical therapist Lee Beasley, MSPT, OCS, “Being a physical therapist allows me to combine ongoing continuing education required to stay up on changes in effective patient treatment with the creativity to customize a program around what a particular patient may need.  It really resonates with patients when you can fit the care to their goals and abilities, rather than them just sifting for info on their own through the ‘Googleverse’ or following a cookie cutter program that may not fit.”

What is occupational therapy?

Occupational therapists help patients learn or relearn skills so they can do everyday life activities such as dressing themselves, cooking, hobbies, work, or school.

Occupational therapists work in hospitals, nursing homes, community centers, schools, outpatient clinics, private homes and more.  They will have their Bachelors, Masters, or their Doctorate.

Occupational therapists engage with people across various backgrounds and life experiences and offer them hope, companionship, and a reprieve from fear and uncertainty.

Occupational therapist Marissa Nilsson, OTD, OTR/L, says, “Being an occupational therapist at OrthoVirginia allows me pursue my passion for the recovery of function after injury and how that function becomes an intricate part in return to meaningful activities and participation in life.  It is a privilege to work with patients and watch as they get back to doing what is important to them in their lives.”

What is a Certified Hand Therapist (CHT)?

A Certified Hand Therapist (CHT) is an occupational therapist (OT) or physical therapist (PT) who gets extra training and specializes in treating muscle and nerve issues in the hand and arm. CHTs help people achieve goals related to movement, strength and pain relief.

To become a CHT, an OT or PT must:

  • Practice as a therapist for at least 3 years.
  • Have at least 4,000 hours of direct practice treating conditions in the hand and arm.
  • Pass a rigorous test.

To continue to be a CHT, an OT or PT must:

  • Maintain credentialling by taking continuing education courses.
  • Keep treating patients.
  • Recertify every five years.

Certified hand therapists work closely with hand surgeons. CHTs can treat the most complex hand and arm injuries and conditions. They may also have additional skills, such as making custom splints.   

Hand therapist Elizabeth Medway, MS, OTR/L, CHT, says “Hands are most often what allow us to interact with our physical world, engage in our environment, or touch our loved ones. It is a privilege that I, and others like myself, have the capacity to use our hands to help others use theirs. “

How do occupational and hand therapy interact at OrthoVirginia?

Many OrthoVirginia hand therapists are occupational therapists. The way that occupational therapists work with patients works well with the goal of hand therapy: to participate with the people and activities that make us who we are.

How will physical, occupational or hand therapy help me at OrthoVirginia?

At your first physical, occupational or hand therapy appointment, the therapist will evaluate you and make a treatment plan. At later physical therapy appointments, you’ll work with a physical therapist or a physical therapy assistant (PTA.) At later occupational or hand therapy appointments, you’ll work with an occupational or hand therapist. You may have exercises to do at home as well as regular appointments.

Your physical, occupational or hand therapy may help you manage a chronic condition, prepare you for surgery, recover after surgery, or rehabilitate after a recent injury. Your therapist will focus on:

  • Pain relief
  • Comfortable movement
  • Patient education
  • Activity modification (changing what you do to reduce pain or discomfort)
  • Strengthening muscles so you can return to what you enjoy doing.