Arthritis can significantly impact a person’s mobility and independence leading to poorer health and quality of life. The U. S. Centers for Disease Control finds arthritis is a leading cause of disability in the United States and currently impacts nearly 69 million patients with those numbers projected to continue to grow over the next 2 decades.
Occupational therapy is an effective treatment option for an arthritis patient that meets each patient’s unique needs and goals. OT evaluates patients’ abilities and limitations, develops customized treatment plans, and provides education to help them manage arthritis symptoms and prevent further complications. Occupational therapists bring value to the healthcare team with their holistic view of the patient and assist patients to maintain or improve their functional abilities and enhance their quality of life.
The scope of the OT’s practice includes:
Joint Protection and Energy Conservation Techniques
A primary goal of occupational therapy for arthritis patients is teaching techniques to protect their joints and conserve energy. This may involve showing patients how to perform tasks in a way that reduces stress on their joints, such as using ergonomic tools or modifying their posture during daily activities. Additionally, OTs can help patients to pace themselves throughout the day to prevent overexertion and reduce fatigue.
Assistive Technology and Devices
Occupational therapists help arthritis patients identify and use assistive technology and devices designed to make daily tasks easier and more manageable. OT will recommend and instruct on the use of technology and tools that reduce joint stress and improve functional abilities with the goal of mitigating the impact of the arthritis.
Exercise and Activity Planning
Exercise and physical activity are essential for arthritis patients to maintain joint flexibility, muscle strength, and overall physical health. Occupational therapists can develop customized exercise programs and activity plans that are safe and effective for arthritis patients. They can also provide guidance on how to modify exercise routines and activities to accommodate patients’ unique needs and limitations.
Pain Management Techniques
Pain is a common symptom of arthritis, and it can significantly impact patients’ quality of life. Occupational therapists provide various pain management techniques to help arthritis patients manage their symptoms, such as heat and cold therapy, relaxation techniques, and guided imagery. Use and design of splints and orthotics can also be directed by an occupational therapist.
Home and Work Environment Modifications
Occupational therapists help arthritis patients modify their home and work environments to reduce joint stress and improve functional abilities. Recommendations could include adjusting the height of countertops or workstations, installing handrails or grab bars, or other modifications that create a safe and comfortable living and working space.
Occupational therapy is an essential treatment approach for arthritis patients helping to manage symptoms, maintain or improve functional abilities, and enhancing quality of life. OT should be a key player on all healthcare teams caring for patients with arthritis.