How Occupational Therapy Makes Living With Arthritis Easier

Occupational therapy is often a component of managing arthritis. This can involve a joint assessment and exercises designed to improve your ability to carry out your usual activities of daily living, which can be impacted by arthritis.

Man lifting weights with the help of a nurse during occupational therapy session

Terry Vine / Getty Images

Occupational Therapy Assessment

An occupational therapist is a trained and licensed health care professional who will do a complete evaluation of the impact that your disease is having on your home and work activities. Your occupational therapist will also consider the effect of arthritis on your hobbies and recreational activities.

Your therapist will begin your assessment by asking about your medical history and your current symptoms.

You will discuss whether your arthritis is affecting your day to day life in areas such as:

  • Personal hygiene
  • Grooming
  • Eating
  • Drinking
  • Dressing
  • Getting in and out of bed
  • Going from sitting to stand
  • Driving
  • Cleaning
  • Cooking
  • Shopping
  • Working
  • Sex

Your therapist will do a physical examination that focuses on your range of motion and any joint deformities that could interfere with your physical activity. Your occupational therapist will also decide whether you need splints or supports and can help design custom splints and assistive devices.

Overcoming Limitations

Your occupational therapist will help you create a plan to overcome your functional limitations. You will learn joint protection techniques that can help reduce the stress on your joints, conserve energy, and prevent further joint damage.

Joint Protection Principles

Some principles of joint protection are:

  • Conserve energy by balancing work with rest
  • Use good body mechanics
  • Sit rather than stand when working
  • Use larger joints when possible
  • When lifting, use two hands rather than one
  • Slide objects instead of lifting
  • Avoid tight grip or twisting motion of hands
  • Use assistive devices to compensate for the lost range of motion and pain associated with arthritis

Occupational therapy offers various approaches to make activities of daily living easier to perform, sometimes with the aid of special equipment.

Listen to Your Pain

Pain can interfere with activities of daily living. Pain can stop you from doing a task and it also can be a signal that you are overdoing things. It is important to manage pain and minimize its negative impact.

Do you know how to best ​manage your pain? Do some of your habits and routines actually increase your pain level? Talk to your doctor if pain is a persistent problem for you.

Bottom Line

Your occupational therapy plan is individualized and customized to your needs and can help you reach your goals.

Your therapy may need to be adjusted as you improve. If possible, your therapist will see you in your own environment, whether it be at home or at work, at the initial assessment and again as part of a re-assessment to monitor improvement.

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Article Sources
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  • About Occupational Therapy. The American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc.

  • Occupational Therapy. U.S. News and World Report.

  • The Duke University Medical Center Book of Arthritis, David S. Pisetsky, M.D.