When to see an Occupational Therapist

5 Surprising Reasons to Go to Occupational Therapy

Brush­ing your teeth, get­ting dressed, using a spoon to eat — these are just a few of the many tasks that you com­plete each day that require the use of your hand and upper extrem­i­ties. For many peo­ple, these tasks pose no chal­lenges. For oth­ers, these activ­i­ties can be a large source of pain, dis­com­fort, and frustration. 

Occu­pa­tion­al ther­a­py is a pro­fes­sion that spe­cial­izes in con­di­tions of the upper extrem­i­ty, from hand to shoul­der, in both non-oper­a­tive and oper­a­tive cas­es. Occu­pa­tion­al ther­a­py (OT) is cen­tered around enabling indi­vid­u­als to com­plete the tasks they want and need to do each day while pre­vent­ing injury, dis­ease or dis­abil­i­ty from affect­ing their dai­ly rou­tine, inter­ests, and lifestyle goals. Occu­pa­tion­al ther­a­py approach­es reha­bil­i­ta­tion with a holis­tic approach based on sci­en­tif­ic research but is also approached with a cre­ative lens to incor­po­rate mean­ing­ful activ­i­ties into treatment. 

Source: Amer­i­can Occu­pa­tion­al Ther­a­py Association

Sim­i­lar to rea­sons you did­n’t know you could go to phys­i­cal ther­a­py for, there are rea­sons you might ben­e­fit from OT that you might not be aware of. While phys­i­cal injuries and dis­abil­i­ties are the most well-known rea­sons to go to occu­pa­tion­al ther­a­py — espe­cial­ly if they impact how you take care of your­self, com­plete house­hold tasks, or do your job suc­cess­ful­ly — OT can be help­ful for a wide range of conditions.

Here are 5 sur­pris­ing ways you might ben­e­fit from occu­pa­tion­al therapy. 

1. Chron­ic Pain

Per­sis­tent, long-term pain is com­mon among peo­ple with chron­ic con­di­tions, dis­abil­i­ties, and/​or those who have sus­tained seri­ous injuries. Chron­ic pain can make it dif­fi­cult to com­plete every­day tasks, which can lead to decreased inde­pen­dence, dif­fi­cul­ty sleep­ing, depres­sion, and an over­all reduc­tion in qual­i­ty of life. 

Occu­pa­tion­al ther­a­py can sup­port peo­ple with chron­ic pain by iden­ti­fy­ing activ­i­ty-spe­cif­ic goals and work­ing with them to deter­mine strate­gies to increase par­tic­i­pa­tion in their val­ued activ­i­ties. For exam­ple, an occu­pa­tion­al ther­a­pist can edu­cate those with chron­ic pain on tech­niques to reduce strain through­out the hand and upper extrem­i­ty through improved body mechan­ics, proac­tive prob­lem-solv­ing, and/​or activ­i­ty adaptations.

A trained occu­pa­tion­al ther­a­pist may also sug­gest alter­na­tive pain man­age­ment strate­gies, like heat/​thermotherapy, cold/​cryotherapy, mas­sage, grad­ed motor imagery, diaphrag­mat­ic breath­ing, and mus­cle relax­ation techniques. 

2. Neu­ro­log­i­cal Conditions

Peo­ple with health con­di­tions that affect the ner­vous sys­tem can ben­e­fit from occu­pa­tion­al ther­a­py. This includes con­di­tions such as stroke, spinal cord injuries, Parkinson’s dis­ease, mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis and more. Neu­ro­log­i­cal con­di­tions can affect a person’s func­tion as they can lead to reduced strength, decreased coor­di­na­tion, tremors, and impaired sen­so­ry perception.

An occu­pa­tion­al ther­a­pist can sup­port those with neu­ro­log­i­cal con­di­tions increase their par­tic­i­pa­tion and inde­pen­dence in dai­ly activ­i­ties through sev­er­al tech­niques includ­ing:

  • Func­tion­al retraining
  • Strength­en­ing exercises
  • Adap­tive equipment
  • Splint­ing to sup­port function

3. Repet­i­tive Use Disorders 

Peo­ple that engage in fre­quent, repet­i­tive, and/​or stren­u­ous use of the upper extrem­i­ty can be at a height­ened risk for repet­i­tive use dis­or­ders includ­ing dif­fer­ent forms of ten­dini­tis such as de Quervain’s tenosyn­ovi­tis, lat­er­al epicondylitis/​tennis elbow, medi­al epicondylitis/golfer’s elbow as well as nerve com­pres­sion injuries such as carpal tun­nel syn­drome, cubital tun­nel syn­drome, radi­al tun­nel syn­drome and more.

You may be sur­prised that not only ath­letes are at risk for sus­tain­ing repet­i­tive use dis­or­ders. Man­u­al labor­ers, new moth­ers, peo­ple who work on com­put­ers, and those who work with their hands fre­quent­ly all have a high­er risk for sus­tain­ing a repet­i­tive use disorder. 

In order to reduce symp­toms relat­ed to repet­i­tive use dis­or­ders, an occu­pa­tion­al ther­a­pist may instruct you in strate­gies and pro­vide you with exer­cis­es to address:

  • Body mechan­ics
  • Activ­i­ty modifications
  • Ergonom­ic fac­tors con­tribut­ing to pain
  • Improved nerve excursion
  • Decreased mobil­i­ty
  • Pain man­age­ment

4. Age-Relat­ed Challenges

Get­ting old­er is a nat­ur­al part of life, and there are health chal­lenges that come with it. For­tu­nate­ly, peo­ple who expe­ri­ence dif­fi­cul­ties in their every­day lives can ben­e­fit from the sup­port of occu­pa­tion­al therapy. 

Many indi­vid­u­als expe­ri­ence pro­gres­sive changes in their bod­ies as they age, such as osteoarthri­tis (the most com­mon type of arthri­tis), which can pose a vari­ety of prob­lems, including:

  • Pain in the wrists, thumbs, and/​or fingers
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Weak­ness
  • Decreased coor­di­na­tion

Occu­pa­tion­al ther­a­pists are skilled in sup­port­ing peo­ple with arthri­tis increase func­tion­al par­tic­i­pa­tion in activ­i­ties that they want or need to do through­out the day. They will work on pain through sev­er­al meth­ods including:

  • Joint pro­tec­tion
  • Splint­ing to sup­port and/​or pro­tect the joints
  • Exer­cis­es to sup­port the joints and improve range of motion
  • Adap­tive equipment
  • Activ­i­ty modification

5. Cus­tom Splint/​Orthosis Fabrication

Often­times the use of a splint or ortho­sis may be required to pro­tect, immo­bi­lize, or sup­port func­tion­al use of the hand and upper extrem­i­ty sec­ondary to injury, ill­ness, or dis­ease. Occu­pa­tion­al ther­a­pists are spe­cial­ized in the cus­tom fab­ri­ca­tion of splints/​orthoses in treat­ing upper extrem­i­ty con­di­tions to sup­port your recovery. 

Occu­pa­tion­al Ther­a­py Meets Your Phys­i­cal Needs

Occu­pa­tion­al ther­a­py helps sup­port you in many aspects of life. If you’re find­ing it dif­fi­cult to com­plete dai­ly tasks, OT may be able to offer you ways to adapt and go about your day safe­ly and more productively. 

Your dai­ly rou­tine is cru­cial to your inde­pen­dence and over­all qual­i­ty of life. With the sup­port of an occu­pa­tion­al ther­a­pist, they can help you learn adap­tive ways to com­plete the tasks you need — and want — to do each day. 

If you think you might ben­e­fit from occu­pa­tion­al ther­a­py, don’t hes­i­tate to get the sup­port you need. Request an appoint­ment from a Duly Occu­pa­tion­al Ther­a­pist, who can cus­tomize a pro­gram to meet your needs.