How an occupational therapist can help you to improve your quality of life

As part of your arthritis treatment plan, your health care provider may recommend that you work with an occupational therapist. Often called an OT, this licensed health care professional is trained to evaluate how a medical condition affects daily activities and to offer solutions. For people with arthritis, an OT often demonstrates different ways to protect joints, save energy, and perform routine tasks that have become too painful or difficult. The result? A fuller, more independent life with less pain and fatigue.

What does an OT do?

OTs typically assist people who have a mental, physical, developmental, or emotionally disabling condition, helping to develop strategies so that they can function more independently. They may find solutions for successfully completing all kinds of activities at home and work, including dressing, cooking, using a computer, and enjoying leisure activities. They can also show you exercises for improving strength and dexterity or suggest assistive devices, such as a shower chair or kitchen aids, to help you perform daily activities more efficiently.

How can an OT help with arthritis pain?

An OT can help you to protect your joints and to perform everyday tasks with less pain and fatigue. The goals are to:

    • Maximize your independence.


    • Identify simpler, more efficient ways to accomplish tasks, perhaps by conducting an “efficiency analysis.”


    • Reduce further strain by addressing specific joints with arthritis.


For example, an OT may show you how to use proper body mechanics to get in and out of a car or to lift heavy objects. If you have painful arthritis in your hands, your OT can demonstrate alternative ways to accomplish tasks that involve less gripping, pinching, or squeezing. Ask your health care provider and OT about any limitations or movements that you should avoid.

Many solutions center on learning how to use your least painful joints and muscles to reduce stress on joints with arthritis. In addition, an OT can identify situations where you can distribute pressure so that you don’t overuse painful joints; for instance, lifting objects with both of your palms rather than your fingers, or carrying heavy items with your arms instead of your hands.

How will an OT work with you?

The amount of time that you spend working with an OT can range from one consultation to longer periods. Your work with an OT will cover four stages:

The OT will determine what areas need attention by obtaining a full picture of your daily life through:

    • Standardized procedures: for example, testing your strength and range of motion.


    • Interviews.


  • Observing you in different settings: at home and/or work, and in outdoor activities.

The assessment may also include consultation with people close to you, family members or your employer.

Areas that you can expect an OT to ask about are personal hygiene, grooming, eating and drinking, dressing, driving, getting in and out of bed, cleaning, cooking, shopping, working, and relationships.

Planning: On the basis of the assessment, the OT will create a treatment plan that will incorporate your short- and long-term goals. The plan will take into account your symptoms, age, habits, roles, lifestyle, and environments.

 You will begin to execute the plan. At this point, you’ll likely experience improved functioning and less pain and fatigue. You’ll also adapt to new ways of completing tasks.

Teamwork is critical for occupational therapy. You and your OT will look for ways to work together and coordinate your plan with overall treatment goals. Be sure to keep your health care provider and medical team up to date on your progress.

What might you learn from the process?

Working with an OT may open your eyes to the wide range of changes that you can undertake, some quite easily, to alleviate symptoms and make living with arthritis more manageable. Areas that an OT can offer guidance on include:

  • The importance of rest and pacing yourself to complete activities.
  • Benefits of heat and ice.
  • Exercise.
  • Assistive devices that you can make or purchase, such as splints for your hands, wrists, or knees.
  • Posture and foot care, such as choosing proper shoes and/or orthotics.
  • Weight loss.

In general, working with an OT can help you to become more knowledgeable about developing strategies to maximize your function and minimize limitations from arthritis.

Now that you know the benefits of working with an OT, how can you find one?

To locate a licensed OT in your area:

    • Consult your health care provider.


    • Ask friends for referrals.


    • Contact your state licensing board.


  • Check to see how IT services are covered by your health insurance and how to access this benefit.