What is a hand therapist? – Karen Fitt

We welcome our latest guest blog contributor, Karen Fitt from Melbourne Hand Rehab.

Many of you may not know what a hand therapist is or the incredible work we do.

Hand therapy practitioners are fully qualified physiotherapists and occupational therapists with additional training and experience in hand injuries and conditions.

Through further education, clinical experience and independent study, hand therapists have become specialised in the treatment of hand and arm conditions.

Three unique talents of a hand therapist

Specialised skills of a hand therapy practitioner include:

1. Splinting

A core skill of a hand therapist is the ability to make a splint, or orthosis to fit your hand.

Your hand therapist will make a splint out of thermoplastic, leather, fibreglass or neoprene – taking into account your injury and the day-to-day activities you need to be able to do.

Occasionally, your hand therapist may choose to customise a commercially available brace or select an off the shelf brace as the best option for you.

2. Scar management and wound care

Hand therapists work in with hand and burn surgeons, meaning they have a range of specialised skills related to the management of skin.

Your hand therapist may be in charge of removing post-operative sutures, re-dressing your wounds or applying silicone products and compression to scars.

3. In-depth anatomical knowledge of the hand and arm

Hand therapy practitioners focus their attention on this one area of the body. As such, they have an enviable level of knowledge that’s hard to find elsewhere.

They can accurately diagnosis an injury or condition, and treat with injury specific rehabilitation and exercises.

Accreditation is a must

Accredited Hand Therapists are full members of the Australian Hand Therapy Association (AHTA). The AHTA is the peak hand therapy body who exist to advance hand therapy by providing hand therapy professional development through their courses, special interest groups and annual scientific conference.

To become an AHTA Accredited Hand Therapist, a physiotherapist or occupational therapist must have:

  • A minimum of three years’ full-time experience
  • 3,600 hours of clinical hand therapy experience
  • 300 hours of post-graduate professional development education related specifically to hand therapy.

No referral required

You don’t need a referral to see a hand therapist (unless you are claiming through WorkSafe, TAC or Veterans Affairs). Having said this, many GPs such as Doctors of South Melbourne regularly refer patients to some of our nine locations for specialised treatment.

Myself or one of my colleagues may be able to help you with a hand injury or condition. If hand therapy is not appropriate for your situation, we’ll be able to refer you to another medical professional for help.

Karen Fitt is the Clinical Director at Melbourne Hand Rehab. She’s also an accredited hand therapist with special interest and expertise in treating wrist injuries and musician injuries.



  1. June September 27, 2018 at 10:20 pm - Reply

    Do hand therapists work with patients who have dupetrons contracture?

    • Karen Fitt September 28, 2018 at 9:51 am - Reply

      Hi June, thank you for your question.
      Dupuytren’s Disease affecting the hand results in a gradual bending in of the fingers. This is manageable until the hand no longer sits flat on a table at which time the fascia in the palm needs to be released. This can be done by a hand surgeon in a variety of ways.
      To answer June’s question; there is nothing that hand therapy can do to change the progression of the disease. The best thing to do is leave the hand alone. Specifically, don’t be tempted to pull on the fingers, or sit on the hand in an attempt to straighten it as this could worsen the situation.
      Hand therapy is necessary after a release (this is done with an injection and manipulation or an operation). The hand therapy will include a splint to hold the fingers out straight whilst you are in bed overnight. Massage and the application of silicone products will be applied to the palm to flatten out and minimize any scarring. Left untreated, the palmar scar can tighten up and cause the fingers to bend back in. You will also be given exercises to get you and your hand working again.
      Kind regards, Karen

Leave A Comment