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Hand Therapist: Job Description & Career Info

Hand therapists are physical or occupational therapists that perform hand therapy. Read on to learn more about the education and skills required for this career, in addition to the salary and employment outlook, to see if this is the right job for you.

Career Definition for a Hand Therapist

Hand therapy is a specialty developed in the 1970s that is usually practiced by occupational or physical therapists. Injuries to the hands or the 'upper quarter' of the body can occur in accidents, when people have surgery, as symptoms of chronic illnesses or even as a repetitive stress injury. Hand therapists help patients with exercises, take patients' medical histories, test and measure patients' abilities and may help patients with other injuries.

Education Master's degree in occupational or physical therapy
Job Skills Able to design exercises or specialized equipment, have good communication and motivational skills
Median Salary (2018) $84,270 (for occupational therapists)
Job Growth (2016-2026) 24% (for occupational therapists)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education Information

Hand therapists typically have a master's degree in occupational or physical therapy. Some schools allow students to earn a hand therapy certificate or have hand therapy courses available, which may include foundations of hand therapy, functional anatomy, joint pathology and diseases affecting the hand. A bachelor's degree is required to earn an M.S., and master's degree programs usually take two years. Some hand therapists choose to become certified by the Hand Therapy Certification Commission (HTCC), which has strict requirements for certification that include 4,000 hours of hand therapy practice and 5 years of experience, www.htcc.org.

Skills Required

Hand therapists often work with patients who have a variety of injuries in addition to hand problems. Hand therapists need to be able to design exercise programs for patients, use several activities to help improve patients and design or make specialized equipment for patients. Excellent communication and motivational skills are needed to help patients overcome their hand-related problems.

Career and Economic Outlook

Hand therapists usually work as occupational or physical therapists in addition to providing hand therapy. There is a nationwide demand for therapists. Job growth will be 24% and 28% for occupational and physical therapists respectively from 2016-2026. In 2018, occupational therapists earned a median annual salary of $84,270, or $40.51 per hour, while physical therapists earned a median salary of $87,930, or $42.27 per hour.

Alternate Career Options

Careers that are similar to a hand therapist include:

Recreational Therapist

By earning a bachelor's degree in recreational therapy or a similar field, in addition to a certification required by some employers, these professionals seek employment planning treatment programs for people with injuries or disabilities that are presented through recreational formats. From 2016-2026, the BLS projected average paced employment growth of 7% and reported a median annual salary of $47,680 or $22.92 per hour in 2017.

Rehabilitation Counselor

Usually needing a master's degree in rehabilitation counseling or a related field, these counselors assist people with physical and emotional issues towards independent living. A faster than average job growth of 13% was projected by the BLS during the 2016-2026 decade. In 2017, the BLS also revealed an annual median wage of $34,860 for rehabilitation counselors, which would relate to $16.76 per hour.


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