Occupational therapy is an evidence-based treatment deeply rooted in science. It’s a proven therapy that works in the real world. Interventions include helping people to recover and regain skills from an injury, helping children with disabilities participate in school and social arenas and helping seniors improve cognitive and physical skills. An occupational plan is all-inclusive and includes:
- An individual evaluation to determine patient goals
- Customized intervention activities to improve daily tasks and activities for the patient
- An outcomes evaluation to determine if goals were met and to make changes to the plan, if needed
Occupational therapy is similar to physical therapy, but there are differences. While physical therapy focuses on the patient’s ability to perform movement of the body, it focuses on the patient’s ability to perform daily living activities. For example, a physical therapist will work with a stroke patient to build back muscle strength, while an occupational therapist will work with a stroke patient to practice basic skills like walking, eating, bathing and dressing. These fields overlap. An individual may start working with a physical therapist and then progress to working with an occupational therapist. These therapies complement each other. One is a perfect adjunct of the other.
Hand therapy is a specialized area of occupational therapy. It focuses on treating orthopedic upper-extremity issues to optimize the functional use of the arm and hand. Typical conditions that affect the hand are lacerations, amputations, tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, fractures and rheumatoid arthritis. In general, hand therapy focuses on the biomechanical issues of upper-extremity conditions. It’s a patient-centered approach that addresses the needs of the patient, such as being able to lift things, open a jar, or button a shirt.
Hand therapy interventions by an occupational therapist may include therapeutic exercises, mirror therapy, orthosis design, pain management, manual therapy, taping, ergonomics and compression therapy. Activities for a hand injury with an occupational therapist may include working with putty, using a gripper and using dumbbells.
The benefits of hand therapy are many:
- Preventative, non-operative or conservative treatment
- Management of acute or chronic pain
- Desensitization following nerve injury or trauma
- Sensory re-education after nerve injury
- Design and implementation of home exercise programs to increase motion, dexterity, and/or strength
- Customized splint fabrication for prevention or correction of injury
- Training in the performance of daily life skills through adapted methods and equipment
- Conditioning prior to returning to work
Overall, occupational therapy goes beyond addressing injuries. It includes the whole person’s functional needs and implements activities to promote psychological well-being. According to the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), in addition to dealing with an individual’s physical well-being, Occupational Therapy practitioners address psychological, social and environmental factors that may hinder an individual’s functioning in different ways. For example, occupational therapy for a young patient may include using a special tool to make cupcakes at home. If an adaptation to a utensil needs to be fashioned, an occupational therapist will do it. This unique approach makes occupational therapy a vital part of health care for patients. People just feel better emotionally when they can engage in everyday activities and their hobbies.