Occupational therapy helps people live better and more productive lives by enabling them to do activities that enrich life.

When patients develop stiff and painful joints, or are recovering from a recent surgery, occupational therapy may be used to help recover or maintain cognitive or physical skills needed to participate in meaningful pursuits.

Occupational therapists (OTs) are trained to assist and address the pain or lack of mobility, which makes performing certain tasks difficult.  For some people even simple activities like getting dressed, opening a door or typing may prove to be painful. Through the therapeutic use of daily activities an OT will help recover and adapt to any physical limitations whether at home or work.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that results in the immune system attacking parts of the body, this usually leads to a chronic inflammatory condition in the joints. RA may require a more holistic treatment approach, with both medical and therapeutic treatments to deal with the pain.

How Can an Occupational Therapist Help Someone with Arthritis?

Occupational Therapists will evaluate the patient’s home or workplace before recommending specific changes to make performing tasks easier, while maintaining independence, and conserving energy.

Splints may be recommended for correcting deformities, providing support, stability and enhance function, so that patients can do things they enjoy such as: cooking, gardening or playing with the kids.

RA of the joints may be managed through joint protection therapies and energy conservation by simply altering the way a task is done. There are specific clinically proven techniques to reduce pain during activity, such as cutting down on forces stressing joints to reduce inflammation and strain on soft tissue.

OT can safely reduce fatigue and help conserve the joint surface to maintain function. The treatment plan for every person is unique to their needs and has to be customized for their specific areas of difficulty but OT’s can provide information on general principles of joint protection, so that a patient can apply them to regular daily activities for their benefit. The therapist can also teach effective ways of exercising the muscles of the hands and upper extremities, while maintaining motion and strength. They can also give information on general conditioning programs.

Living with RA is already challenging, but there are things that can be done to significantly improve the quality of life for those living with joint pain from arthritis. It has been found that breaking down activities that worsen pain by spreading them out through the day into smaller tasks can help the body recover faster. And resting between tasks and using the bigger joints in the hand instead of smaller ones can also have a positive effect.

Using easily available and inexpensive adaptive equipment and assertive devises may also help place less stress on joints to manage pain from RA. Your therapist will recommend any modification or equipment.

Occupational therapy helps minimize pain and swelling in the joints, while maintaining strength and joint movement.  There is plenty of research to show the effectiveness of occupational therapy in improving functional ability of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), osteoarthritis or fibromyalgia patients.  If you are living with joint pain from RA or other forms of arthritis, you can get further information from your physician regarding how and if occupational therapy is right for you.

The Illinois Bone & Joint Institute has more than 90 orthopedic physicians, and 20 locations throughout Chicago. We’re here to help you move better so you can live better.

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