How Occupational Therapy Makes Living With Arthritis Easier

Older man lifting weights during occupational therapy

 Terry Vine / Getty Images

The ability to perform usual daily living activities can be greatly affected by arthritis. The physical limitations associated with the disease make performing routine tasks more difficult.

An occupational therapist is an integral part of the healthcare team working to combat the effects of arthritis. The occupational therapist is a trained and licensed health care professional who can perform a complete evaluation of the impact of the disease on home and work activities. The therapist also considers the effect of arthritis on hobbies and recreational activities when making their assessment.

Occupational Therapy Assessment

The therapist takes a history from the patient by conducting a thorough interview. Questions are asked about the ease or difficulty of tasks related to:

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

The therapist also conducts a physical examination that focuses on range of motion and observable joint deformities which might interfere with physical activity. The occupational therapist assesses the need for splints or supports which might benefit the person with arthritis. The therapist can help design custom splints and assistive devices.

Overcoming Limitations

It is the job of the occupational therapist to create a plan to help overcome functional limitations. Teaching joint protection techniques is also essential to help reduce the stress on 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, but the patient must be willing to use the equipment and to follow directives from the therapist.

Listen to Your Pain

Pain can interfere with daily living activities. Pain can stop you from doing a task and it also can be a signal that you are overdoing. 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?

Bottom Line

As the occupational therapist conducts your initial interview, the goal is to determine what you want to be able to do and what you have difficulty doing. The plan to reach your goals is individualized and customized to your needs.

The goals and approach may be adjusted if there are still unmet goals after a period of time. After all, that is the whole point behind occupational therapy—adjusting and adapting. The therapist will want to 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 determine if the function has improved sufficiently.

In the field of occupational therapy, according to the U.S. News and World Report, a push is underway for "more preventive and proactive paradigms as opposed to just reactionary rehabilitative paradigms."

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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.