Occupational therapist adds custom touch to patients’ hand splints


Augusta Simmons brings the bling.

The board-certified hand therapist has been fitting patients with splints for over 25 years, the past six at the Northville Health Center. These splints are used to help support or immobilize the hand for people who have a medical need, such as arthritis, trauma or a sports-related injury.

But, at a certain point Simmons got tired of looking at the standard white- or cream-colored splint material.

“I just couldn’t do it anymore,” she said. “It makes you feel like you’re in the hospital, like you’re sick.”

Her patients will usually wear a splint for eight to 12 weeks, sometimes longer depending on the doctor’s prescription. “By the end, the regular splint material can get really dirty,” Simmons said.

And so, she began to create custom-designed hand splints to help boost the mood and self-esteem of her patients.

“You sometimes get people who are really sad, and decorating the splint takes their minds off of it. They feel better,” she said.

“Over the years, I would overhear patients say things like, ‘I’ve gotta wear one of those boring splints’ and I just thought, ‘not with me you don’t.’”

Some of the personalized hand splints designed by Augusta Simmons, a board-certified hand therapist who works at the Northville Health Center. (Courtesy photo)
Some of the personalized hand splints designed by Augusta Simmons, a board-certified hand therapist who works at the Northville Health Center. (Photo courtesy of Augusta Simmons)

Custom designs for custom splints

So, she started talking with her patients about what they’d like to see on their splints. Black is a popular color, as are sports teams and their colors.

“I have little swatches of fabric that people can choose. I can bedazzle the splint. Other things like dollar signs or ‘Lord of the Rings.’ I get a lot of requests for Michigan colors, versus, you know, the people in green,” Simmons said with a laugh.

Each hand splint is unique to the patient and requires a custom fitting. The foundation of every splint is made from a plastic splinting material that Simmons first warms in a pan of hot water to soften it and then cuts to size. She then molds the softened material to fit the person exactly.

Next, Simmons adds a layer of padding to the inside of the splint and some around the edges for comfort, which also keeps it from slipping.

The splint straps come next: “You can pick from about 10 colors of straps,” Simmons said.

Finally, it’s time for the custom fabric, which she glues to the outside of the splint. “I do a lot of arts and crafts, so I’ve got plenty of fabric to share, you know?”

‘The bedazzler’

Augusta Simmons
Augusta Simmons

In addition to splints, Simmons calls on her years of experience in occupational therapy to work with her patients on exercises that can help improve hand mobility and strength.

“The doctor will put in a prescription for the specifics of the patient’s therapy,” she said. “Patients may need range-of-motion exercises, a splint or strengthening exercises. And then we fulfill that in our sessions with the patient.”

Hand therapies can vary widely according to patient need, and the U-M clinics offer different therapeutic services from location to location.

“It depends on the clinic,” Simmons said. “One location might do a lot of geriatrics, while another deals with a lot of sports injuries. It mainly depends on the specialties of the doctor and staff assigned to each clinic. Our clinic sees a lot of congenital pediatric patients. And our doctor likes to fix things, so we also see patients with traumatic injuries.”

Simmons estimated that about 70% of her patients request a custom-decorated splint. “And the guys like it, too. Mostly the guys want black, but I’ve got army fatigue. And I’ve got this purple material that I think is beautiful. It’s almost like leather.”

Among U-M clinicians and staff at the other locations, Simmons is known as “the bedazzler.”

“The other therapists and doctors get a kick out of it, you know? When they teach classes, they talk about me. ‘If you want a bedazzled splint, go to Northville.’”

The custom splints serve a purpose beyond their functional design, as well.

“It’s your first day in therapy, and you’ve just given someone your hand. You have no idea what they’re about to do,” Simmons said. “But now, your splint is getting some rhinestones and colored straps. And you feel like you can take some control, make it your own. And that makes people more likely to be compliant and wear the splint like they’re supposed to. And it helps me establish a rapport with my patients.”

Bedazzling as a therapeutic tool?

“I tell every patient that we’re going to make today fun, and when you leave, you’re going to be smiling. And they’re usually in stitches laughing all the way through. And that’s what makes me happy.

“You gotta smile.”


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