Occupational therapy is a branch of healthcare that aims to help those who have difficulty performing everyday tasks, or activities of daily living (ADL) as a result of physical, sensory or cognitive problems. Whilst OT may sound like a treatment designed to teach patients how to find, or keep a job, it actually focuses on strengthening the fine motor skills required for mobility and the physical activities typical of daily work/occupational tasks.
Best Candidates for Occupational Therapy
OT is often prescribed to reduce, or eliminate, the symptoms associated with disability, trauma, illness, ageing, and a number of other long-term conditions, as well as to develop, recover and return to physical/challenging activities like sports and work (occupations). Most therapists consider OT best effective as a supportive treatment, typically in conjunction with other special education techniques.
The key to effective occupational therapy is early intervention. Therapists report much more success when the treatments are administered as soon as symptoms appear and diagnosis confirmed.
OT is an effective treatment for individuals of any age, although a patient’s goals will differ depending on how old they are. Adults typically undergo occupational therapy with the idea of returning to work, whereas children undergo OT to help them function better academically, and in playground.
That said, OT can also help adults perform better in an educational environment, and although children do not have an occupation, the treatments do translate over to teach them how to manage, perform and cope with the small, but regular burden of daily chores.
Occupational therapists can assist a child in reaching critical developmental milestones, whilst building a solid foundation from which they can tackle life with confidence.
Occupational therapy treatments were developed to increase a patient’s daily function, and maximize their ability to perform daily tasks such as eating, cleaning, dressing, using the restroom, and bathing, as well as driving, collecting groceries, cooking, walking the dog, to name just a few of many, many different tasks. Occupational therapies offer a number of physical and mental health benefits that help patient’s feel and act more comfortable in work, education, and social situations.
OT achieves this by employing certain techniques that can help patients:
- Learn to use joints without straining them
- Wear splints to further support joints during strenuous movements
- Learn best tools and equipment for the task/activity at hand
- Techniques to plan your activities, learn to pace yourself and relax/recover
- Learn exercises to increase hand and wrist strength and mobility
- Advice on driving, how to overcome/manage mobility problems
- How to adapt the home with adaptive equipment
- Receive support to return to work
- Support with returning back to work
- Exercises to make work tasks easier, less strenuous
- Advice to manage fatigue
Types of Occupational Therapy Treatments
Improve gross motor skills: decrease pain and increase mobility by building strength in the large muscles of the body such as the legs, arms, and back, all of which are used for walking, crawling, standing up from seated position and jumping.
Improve fine motor skills: with the same concept, except focusing on the smaller muscles in the body, strengthening the hands and fingers is important for performing many daily tasks, as well as academic, or computer/office based work.
This can be achieved through the use of one or more treatments and/or techniques including:
Functional Mobility Training: exercises that involved dynamic movements, transfers, lifting and bending techniques that are used in everyday life.
Adaptive Strategies: techniques used to adapt future treatments based on patient’s reaction to past treatments.
Adaptive Equipment: devices used to assist in performing activities of daily living (ADL).
There are a number of ways occupational therapy can help treat pain. This includes a mix of traditional and modern medications, restorative therapies, interventional procedures, and holistic therapies such as breathwork, mediation, and hypnosis, as well as social skills/behavioral health approaches.
Occupational therapy treatments employ visual adaptive techniques to improve the skill and reading level of patients. It is also commonly used to teach and assist people who are blind or have low vision. These techniques typically consist of pre-reading strategies such as scanning and skimming, as well as picture card prompts, voice/text to speech and Braille.
Home Safety Assessments will be carried out to evaluate obstructions and any other hazards in the living space that may put the patient at additional risk due to their condition. The assessment will also check for adequate lighting, as well as the functionality of furniture and other usable items, following which, therapists may suggest the need for adaptive equipment.
When it comes to caregiving, part of an occupational therapists’ role is to train caregivers and teachers to help them better understand the condition, the resulting limitations and what they can do to continually help the patient progress, and feel comfortable whilst doing do. This practice also involves the parents, and/or other close family members/guardians, so these treatments and techniques can be performed with an adequate level of skill, round the clock, as and when the patient requires.