Recovery in the first six months after hand and upper limb burns: A prospective cohort study

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Background/aim: Hands are commonly involved in burn trauma. Occupational therapy in the acute phase aims to reduce the risk of deformities and facilitate return to usual occupations. This study aimed to describe usual occupational therapy care at a major adult burns service, and measure recovery from hand burns in the first six months post-acute hospital discharge. Method: To describe usual occupational therapy care, an audit of patient contact statistics over six months was undertaken, and occupational therapy staff were interviewed. To measure recovery, a prospective cohort study recruited adults hospitalised with hand/upper limb burns at the Victorian Adult Burns Service. Recruitment occurred over a four month period. Functional recovery was measured at three time points: discharge, three and six months post-discharge. Instruments included the Quick Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder and Hand and the Functional Assessment for Burns. Results: Usual care was calculated to be one 30 minute session of daily occupational therapy. Interventions were described using the Template for Intervention Description and Replication. Participants (N = 10) were aged 22–65 years and were treated for burns ranging from 2% to 40% total body surface area. Scores on the Functional Assessment for Burns suggested high functional independence at discharge. Quick Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder and Hand scores improved significantly at each time point, with most substantial improvement occurring between discharge and three months. Involvement of the first web-space was associated with poorer recovery in the first three months post-discharge (P = 0.04). Six participants (60%) had returned to work at the three month follow-up, and seven (70%) at six months. Conclusion: The Quick Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder and Hand was responsive to recovery in the post-discharge period. Further research into upper limb recovery following burns is needed, including exploration of the relationship between recovery and first web space hand burns.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)201-209
Number of pages9
JournalAustralian Occupational Therapy Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019


  • burns
  • functional recovery
  • occupational recovery
  • occupational therapy
  • upper extremity

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