A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Occupational therapy: Helping you get back your independence

Everyone deserves to live a quality life. Occupational therapy (OT) can help people of all ages do meaningful daily activities or “occupations” that they need and want despite a health condition or injury.

“We promote health, make recommendations to prevent injuries and help clients live their fullest lives with injuries, chronic health conditions or disabilities,” said Michelle Corbin, occupational therapist, Marshfield Clinic Health System. “OT practitioners have a holistic perspective in which we focus on making changes to the environment and/or the task to fit the person and to make the person as independent and successful as possible.”

occupational therapy session where woman is holding a ball

Occupational therapy can use strategies and/or exercise programs to help you get back to doing the things you want and need.

Occupational therapy helps with your daily life

If you are experiencing increased difficulty with daily tasks as a result of a health condition, and would like more independence, Corbin said you may benefit from occupational therapy services.

Daily struggles that indicate a need for occupational therapy can include but are not limited to:

  • Struggles with getting dressed, reaching down to put on socks, shoes or pants.
  • Struggles in manipulating clothing closures such as buttons, zippers, snaps or tying your shoes.
  • Feeling unsafe or having difficulty with performance of bathing, grooming or meal prep.
  • Difficulty with functional thinking like following a recipe or a list, managing medications, balancing finances, etc.
  • Difficulty with scanning the environment like finding items in the kitchen or closet, locating items in a grocery store.
  • Pain or decreased strength with gripping and pinching, dropping things.
  • Joint pain when performing daily activity or gardening.
  • Difficulty remembering where something belongs or where to find it.

You may be born with these daily struggles or it can happen after a traumatic incident or even, over time. Occupational therapists work with a large range of conditions, including people who have suffered a stroke, spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries or Alzheimer’s. In addition, occupational therapists work with patients who have elbow or hand tendonitis, who have undergone hand surgeries like tendon repairs or have fractured their forearm.

Occupational therapists also work with children who have Autism, sensory processing disorders or developmental delays, to name a few.  These pediatric patients may have a physical, sensory or cognitive deficits that interfere with their daily routine.

“I specifically specialize in working with individuals that are trying to rehabilitate after a cancer diagnosis and have undergone cancer treatments of chemotherapy, surgery or radiation,” Corbin said. “I also care for individuals who suffer from chronic swelling/lymphedema of part of their body.

Because there are so many reasons that someone’s daily life can be disrupted by a health condition, occupational therapists perform an initial evaluation that assesses the whole person and centers on that person’s specific goals and needs.

Occupational therapy differs from physical therapy because physical therapy focuses on a patient’s ability to move their body and occupational therapy focuses on improving the patient’s ability to perform activities of daily living.

Talk to your provider if you are struggling to perform daily tasks. Your provider can set up a meeting with an occupational therapist for strategies or an exercise program to help you gain independence at home.

“Our patient’s come in struggling to complete basic activities for taking care of themselves, making meals or participating in work tasks and more,” Corbin said. “It is so rewarding to give the patients the tools and knowledge to change their life and regain some ‘normalcy.’”

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