Occupational Therapy After Surgery

Occupational Therapy After Surgery

Occupational Therapists commonly work with patients who have injuries or disorders affecting the upper extremity. This includes working with people after they have had surgery such as a Carpal Tunnel Release, tendon repair, cyst removal, amputation, or surgery to stabilize a fracture. Therapists work closely with surgeons in order to provide the best outcomes for their patients. There are guidelines and protocols to progress through in order to gain range of motion and strength without compromising the repair. Each surgeon has their own protocols and methods, so therapy and timelines may look a little different for each person depending on the specific surgical technique performed.

An occupational therapy visit post-surgery may include removing the postoperative dressing (temporary splint wrapped with an ace bandage) as well as assessing the incision. Depending on the surgery and the doctor’s personal protocol, you may have a custom orthosis (splint/brace) fabricated to protect the repair/procedure. You may have a range of motion measurements taken and receive exercises at this visit as well.

Subsequent visits depend on the type of procedure as well as the individual. Each person responds to surgery and therapy differently. We customize the treatment plan based on protocol and how you are progressing. Treatments could involve stretching, scar massage, soft tissue mobilization, and strengthening. Your therapist can provide an overview of what a typical treatment plan would look like for your specific case. Your therapist will also communicate your progress to the surgeon before each follow-up.

Studies indicate that therapy post-surgery, in this case, therapy post hand surgery, promotes better outcomes for the patient. A study presented by Almond and Levit (2016) at the American Association for Hand Surgery Conference revealed significant improvements in patients’ range of motion, strength, and function post therapy for a wrist fracture. Another study by Lyngcoln, Taylor, Pizzari, and Baskus (2005) states that a major indicator of success in therapy is adherence to the home exercise program.

The education and exercises provided by the therapist are specific to your rehabilitation and will provide the most direct approach to reaching your goals. General exercises found over the internet can potentially be beneficial, but they may not be the most effective exercises for your situation. They may also be counterproductive and slow progress and healing. Having a therapist familiar with surgical protocols, human anatomy/physiology, and the recovery process is important for preventing complications as well as regaining function.

Each surgeon is different in their preferences for therapy and when they like patients to begin the process. You can discuss the potential for therapy with your surgeon prior to surgery. Occupational therapy can be very beneficial when guiding patients through their post-op recovery. Many patients come in apprehensive, but we strive to listen to your concerns, and while we want to push you, we do respect pain and limitations. We align our goals with yours and want you to experience as easy of a recovery process as possible. Therapy works best when it is a team effort between the patient, surgeon, and therapist. Our goal is to help you return to activities that you need to and want to do. If you have any questions about occupational therapy after surgery, please give us a call.

Almond, B. & Levit, K. (2016). Recovery from wrist fracture: what happens after discharge from hand therapy. Retrieved from http://meeting.handsurgery.org/abstracts/2016/P49.cgi
Lyngcoln, A., Taylor, N., Pizzari, T., Baskus, K. (2005) The relationship between adherence to hand therapy and short-term outcome after distal radius fracture. Journal of Hand Therapy, 18 (1). 2-8.

Content provided by Angela Gerstenkorn, OTR/L

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