There are many common conditions treated with occupational therapy. Occupational therapy helps people of all ages and abilities participate in occupations, the daily activities that give their lives meaning and purpose.
Using practical, real-life interventions, occupational therapists help patients with pain, illness, or disability adapt and change their movements in ways that allow them to complete daily tasks safely and effectively. The goal is to help patients manage their health, while remaining active, independent, and engaged in work, school, exercise, and hobbies.
Occupational therapy benefits patients with temporary, acute conditions and those diagnosed with chronic disease. Individuals living with sensory, mental, and developmental delays and challenges that impact muscle function may also find occupational therapy valuable.
Let us take a deeper look at common conditions treated with occupational therapy.
Occupational therapy helps patients with various forms of arthritis accomplish tasks like dressing and undressing, bathing, and preparing meals in ways that protect joints from further inflammation and damage.
The occupational therapist uses specialized skills in assessment, planning and treatment to provide a variety of therapeutic interventions, including individualized exercises, activities and services such as fabricating customized splints (orthoses).
Typical conditions result from trauma, disease, or congenital or acquired deformities. They include arthritis, autoimmune conditions, burns, fractures, pain conditions, sprains and strains, tendon and nerve injuries, and more.
As with general occupational therapy, the goal of specialized hand therapy is to prevent dysfunction, restore function and/or reverse the progression of pathology to enhance a person’s ability to perform tasks and regain function, allowing full participation in occupations.
Down’s Syndrome is a genetic disorder linked to low muscle tone and developmental delays, among other characteristics. Patients with Down’s Syndrome can build oral, fine, and gross motor skills to increase functional independence, allowing them to participate in home, school, and recreational activities.
Parkinson’s Disease is an incurable, progressive nerve disorder associated with limb tremors, balance problems, stiff muscles, and speech changes. Occupational therapy helps patients with Parkinson’s adapt to complete a multitude of routine tasks from eating and dressing, to writing and using a computer.
Burns are significant, life-altering injuries. Depending upon their size, location, and severity, they can affect mobility, work, sleep, and recreation. Occupational therapy helps burn patients safely relearn and adapt to activity while managing pain and conserving energy.
Chronic pain affects an estimated 50 million adults in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC.) Whether long-term pain is caused by a chronic condition, autoimmune disorder, or traumatic injury, it often has a significant impact on overall health and wellness.
Occupational therapists helps those with chronic pain set activity goals, exercise safely, use mobility aids, and perform daily tasks in ways that won’t exacerbate discomfort—and will enhance their quality of life.
The Cerebral Palsy Alliance recommends occupational therapy in conjunction with physical therapy among the many interventions that help individuals with cerebral palsy improve day-to-day movement skills. Occupational therapists adapt movement and promote independence with training aids and equipment like supportive footwear, seating, and walking frames.
The term autism spectrum disorder (ASD) refers to a wide range of conditions that affect a person’s speech, communication, socialization, and ability to interact with the world around them.
Occupational therapy can help individuals with ASD:
Sprains and strains are common soft tissue injuries that happen when the body’s connective tissues overstretch and/or tear. They typically cause pain, mobility, and function problems. Occupational therapy helps patients safely perform routine tasks throughout the rehabilitation process, gradually adapting techniques as they move closer to optimal recovery.
Losing a limb from disease or trauma affects every aspect of a person’s life. As one part of the patient’s larger care team, occupational therapists play a significant role in amputation rehabilitation. Their primary goal is to help patients maximize their independence and readjust to daily life with or without the use of prosthetic limbs.
Cognitive decline due to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease leads to problems with memory, language, thinking, and behavior. Because both diseases are progressive, over time, someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s may eventually be unable to live home alone.
Occupational therapy helps these patients learn skills to perform routine tasks to live richer, fuller lives as long as possible. A systematic review of available research confirms the benefits of occupational therapy for patients with dementia and their families and encourages healthcare providers to consider referring their patients to occupational therapy.
Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are caused by direct trauma to the body, like a fall or physical assault. Non-traumatic brain injuries are caused by internal conditions like exposure to toxins, or lack of oxygen that damages brain tissues.
While therapy cannot reverse permanent brain damage, occupational therapists strive to help patients rehabilitate to their pre-accident state as much as possible. When gaps remain, patients are taught new ways of performing common tasks to help them remain as functional as possible.
A stroke is a type of non-traumatic brain injury caused when a blood vessel in the brain bursts, or when something blocks blood supply to the brain. Stroke survivors often experience permanent brain damage and/or disability.
Occupational therapy helps patients improve balance, use adaptive tools, and promote brain “rewiring” or neuroplasticity through repetitive activities and tasks. Recovery from stroke is often lengthy and complex, but with occupational therapy, survivors can regain some independence to enjoy favorite activities once again.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is the most common neurological disease that causes disability in young adults. In patients with MS, the body’s immune system attacks the myelin sheath that coats and protects nerve fibers. This process causes lesions and inflammation that make it hard for the brain to send signals to the rest of the body.
MS symptoms vary in type and severity based on the stage of the disease, but often include muscle weakness, balance problems, fatigue, and dizziness. Occupational therapists help patients with MS adjust to changes and symptoms at the onset of the disease and over time as it progresses.
Occupational therapy provides solutions to the symptoms these and many other conditions present. Your occupational therapist can help you perform your everyday tasks and activities while living with that condition.
Like physical therapy, occupational therapy programs are highly individualized for your needs and goals. The process begins with a thorough evaluation to understand your lifestyle, health history, and interests. They may even visit your home or workplace to observe how you move and function in these spaces and the challenges you face.
This initial assessment gives your therapist a clear understanding of who you are, and what specific skills you hope to master with occupational therapy. From there, your occupational therapist creates a custom intervention plan to accomplish these objectives, assessing it over time to track your progress.
Are you living with any of these common conditions treated by occupational therapy? Are you struggling with once-simple tasks, or looking for new ways to do them while managing pain or disability? If so, occupational therapy may improve your quality of life. Find a clinic near you to schedule a screening and learn more about the benefits of occupational therapy.