For many, a hand injury has more than just physical consequences. We use our hands for so many things during the day - cooking, taking care of family members, playing sports, going to work, making art, communicating, and so much more. A hand injury can lead to a temporary or permanent change in the way you participate in these activities. Hand injuries can also change the nature of your relationships - you may become more reliant on your partner, spouse, or child to help you with feeding, washing up, or getting dressed. As someone who may have been used to doing all of these things for yourself, it can be difficult not only to accept the help, but to adapt to the ways in which your roles and relationships have changed since your injury. Additionally, if the way you injured your hand was traumatic - perhaps from a fall, car accident, or amputation - this can take its toll on your mental health, too. Perhaps your injury has put you out of work and you are experiencing increased stress related to finances. It’s important as you’re recovering from a hand injury to remember that feeling depressed, angry, anxious, frustrated, irritable, disgusted, or hopeless (or any other number of feelings!) can be common reactions to going through something like this. One study found that about ⅓ of patients who experience a hand injury had high depression and PTSD scores (Richards et al, 2011). Another found that many patients reported “posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), work avoidance, appearance and body image issues, sleep disturbance, pain, and psychosocial and marital functional difficulties” (Chown et al, 2017).
So, what can you do about it? If you find that you are having difficulty coping with your injury for any reason, talk therapy can be a helpful addition to your care team as you heal. One study suggests that the psychological impact of a hand injury reduces significantly within 6–9 months. In the meantime, a referral to a qualified mental health professional can not only help your mental health, but it is also found to be associated with better functional outcomes following injury (Richard et al, 2011).
Many people know what physical therapy is, but have never heard of occupational therapy, which is who you will see if you have a hand or arm injury. When coming to hand therapy, you may think that the focus of treatment is entirely on physical rehabilitation. But as occupational therapists, we can help with so much more - whether it is problem-solving to adapt your daily activities so that you can still perform them as independently as possible, learning coping skills to help deal with pain, or modifying your environment to help you continue doing the things that are important to you! The primary goal of occupational therapy is to promote health and wellness throughout the lifespan by addressing all factors causing dysfunction in your daily life and activities. While we’ll certainly be addressing the physical dysfunction that brought you to hand therapy, we’re also qualified to address any issues that may be arising because of your injury in your everyday life.
Chown, G., Beckwold, M., Chernosky, H., Lozoskie, J., & Yerkes, A. (2017). The use of Psychosocial services Post hand and upper Limb injury and Trauma: A pilot study. HAND, 13(5), 529-537. doi:10.1177/1558944717725373
Richards, T., Garvert, D. W., McDade, E., Carlson, E., & Curtin, C. (2011). Chronic psychological and functional sequelae after emergent hand surgery. The Journal of Hand Surgery, 36(10), 1663-1668. doi:10.1016/j.jhsa.2011.06.028
By Emily Ike, OTR/L
Emily Ike, OTR/L is a recent graduate of the Tufts Occupational Therapy Program. Emily has since completed her final internship at Orthopedics Rhode Island and went on to successfully pass her board certification exam.