Whether from overuse, arthritis, surgery, tendonitis or carpel tunnel syndrome, rehabilitation is often needed for a hand injury.
It also comes in very handy if you fall off a roof! As you lose balance or footing, you automatically stick your hand out to break the fall potentially breaking ligaments and bones.
That was LeRoy Ashwill’s experience—resulting in an immediate trip to the emergency room, surgery the next day and specialized hand therapy thereafter. While LeRoy was in the trauma unit, the medical team also found he had a blocked carotid artery and took care of that, too.
“I think God pushed me off,” said LeRoy jokingly. “He could be a little gentler, but a friend said I would not have listened!”
LeRoy said he didn’t feel pain at the time of his fall from the roof, but it dislocated all the fingers in his hand. “The first thing they did in the ED was give me pain medications and put my fingers back in place. That was the most painful.”
With his shattered wrist, LeRoy said the surgeon cleaned out the bone pieces and put in metal plates to hold his wrist in place. After surgery, he wore a metallic cage (called a fixator) from elbow to hand for a little more than a month while he healed.
X-ray illustration of a fixator being used on a patient's wrist.
Once the fixator was off, LeRoy selected John Fisher, a specialized hand therapist at Salem Health Rehabilitation Center, to help get his hand moving again.
“I know there are not many hand therapists in town, and I felt really fortunate to get John,” said LeRoy. “If you have something like this happen to you, be an advocate for yourself and ask for John. He became a friend.”
LeRoy looked forward to therapy, although he knew it would hurt, he said. Fisher coached LeRoy to touch his thumb to his fingers, close his fingers and build flexibility in his hand and wrist.
“Touching my thumb to my pinky finger was the hardest,” said LeRoy. “We also got a few laughs when I tried throwing bean bags into a container to help strengthen my wrist. I really had to concentrate.”
Making sure your therapist has expertise in hand therapy is important. Some hand therapists, like Fisher, have a postgraduate specialty certification that is especially in demand with patients where there are strict guidelines and expertise needed for recovery from surgery.
Certified hand therapists complete more than 4,000 hours of patient care for upper extremity injuries, must pass a national board exam, and maintain a yearly continuing education requirement to stay abreast of current trends and new treatment techniques. Fisher, for example, has been an occupational therapist since 1987 and a hand specialist since 2003.
If you have hand or wrist issues, talk with your physician and ask for a referral to a hand therapist at the Salem Health Rehabilitation Center at 503-561-5974.