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Hollywood Hand Therapy

How to Get the Most Out of Your Hand Therapy

Blog post by Erika Lassig

Who doesn’t love a good flick? Action and thrillers are my favourite. My husband and I recently watched the latest Marvel instalment, Dr Strange. Have you seen it? Benedict Cumberbatch plays Dr Stephen Strange, an egotistical neurosurgeon who loses function in his hands following a horrific car accident. In his mind, Stephen is THE BEST at what he does. The loss of his ability to be a surgeon is so devastating that when he thinks medicine had “failed” him, he seeks to find healing from less conventional and bizarre sources. Thus ensues an entertaining film.  But haaaaang on! Stop the movie! Rewind! Let’s talk about this a bit more. As a person that manages hand injuries for a profession there are a few things wrong here. Some red flags. Let’s talk about how Stephen could have gotten better results out of his hand therapy.

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See a therapist who specialises in hand and upper limb rehabilitation

There was a therapy scene in the film. It was frightening, from a patient point of view and a therapist! What were those exercises? And that device he was using to exercise his fingers??? I have no idea. It’s certainly not what a hand therapy practitioner would prescribe. The hand is a very complex unit with many bones, ligaments, tendons, muscles, nerves and vessels. The function of the hand is also unique and remarkable and the best outcomes are achieved when your therapist has a thorough understanding of all of these factors. In Australia, to make sure your therapist has specialised training and experience in hand and upper limb rehabilitation, check that they are a full member of the Australian Hand Therapy Association (AHTA). Full membership can only be attained by an occupational therapist or physiotherapist with a minimum of 3000 hours experience and 500 hours training directly related to treatment of hand and upper limb injuries. A list of full members can be found at http://www.ahta.com.au/site/find-a-therapist.

Trust your surgeon and therapist

It was pretty clear that Dr strange didn’t trust his surgeon and therapist. He questioned everything. He gave them attitude. He was pretty unpleasant to be honest! I support patients asking questions, doing their own research and making an informed decision. It is a health care provider’s responsibility to explain to patients their options so that they can make their own decisions regarding health care. But keep in mind that we have a lot of knowledge and experience to draw on, have your best interests in mind and are doing our best for you. Find a surgeon and therapist that you like and trust and I promise you will get a better result.

Commit to your therapy for the long haul

I saw a lack of commitment from Dr Strange. It appeared to me he wanted a quick fix. The fastest route back to neurosurgery and his former life. Let me tell you a secret: there is no quick fix. No magic wand. No miracle pill. Sorry, but results come from commitment and hard work. Much like training for a marathon,  recovering from a hand injury is tough and sometimes painful. If you commit to doing your exercises several times a day, EVERY day, or as prescribed by your therapist, you can expect to see great results. The best way to remain motivated is to set goals. Goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and have a time frame. Have short term and long term goals. Also, find ways to fit your home exercise program into your daily schedule, make it a habit like your morning walk or taking your multivitamins. Schedule it in and set reminders on your phone. There’s a great App called RehabMinder that you can program to remind you to do specific exercises at specific times.

Keep a therapy diary

A therapy diary is a great way to document your goals and progress. When you become frustrated with your progress, look back to where you started to see how far you have come. This helps you to remain focused and motivated. I encouraged you to celebrate your successes, however small. For example, you can now hold a fork or no longer need your splint during the day. This will help you to remain positive when the obstacles seem too great to overcome.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the movie and if you’re a Marvel fan, you will too. It’s also a great lesson in what NOT to do when faced with a hand injury…