What is Occupational Therapy

As an occupational therapist, I have heard often “How is occupational therapy different from physical therapy?” or “What is occupational therapy?” April is occupational therapy month, so I thought I would share some insight of occupational therapy and help everyone understand what it is that we do every day. I thought it might be appropriate to give you an ideal day on what type of clients I am working with on a daily basis, demonstrating the variety and the depth of the field of occupational therapy.

My days are always different, working with different individuals. My day could start off working with an 8 year old boy dealing with sensory processing limitations. In therapy, our focus is on working with this child in understanding his sensory needs to allow him to participate in his daily tasks (occupations) more effectively. We create a therapy program that may include pool therapy, obstacle courses, use of a swing, compression activities, or many other tasks. We focus on play activities to meet the needs of the child. We work hard with parents on education for things that can be completed at home.

Next, my day turns to a more orthopedic focus. As an occupational therapist our main focus in orthopedics is hand therapy. I start by working with a client recovering from a distal radius fracture (wrist fracture). We focus on regaining range of motion and strength, at the same time making sure the incision is healing well. We work to control swelling to allow for proper healing to take place. We then turn our attention to working with a client dealing with tennis elbow (elbow pain). Here we are using different manual therapy techniques and pain control modalities to allow this individual to return to the occupations they love. We focus on teaching not only exercises they can do at home, but also on modifications that can be made in the home or workplace to prevent the injury from worsening or returning.

We then work with a client that had a work injury resulting in a fractured hand. We fabricate a splint to allow the fracture to be immobilized and heal correctly to prevent the need for a potential surgery. We customize the splint to fit the shape of the client’s hand and wrist, allowing for increased comfort.

Next, we go to the inpatient floor and work in individuals who have been hospitalized. We start working with someone who has just received a hip replacement here at Sioux Center Health. Following hip replacement surgery, an individual has restrictions of no bending past 90 degrees or crossing the legs for a period of time. We focus on teaching them how to dress through the use of adaptive equipment. The client cannot bend over for 6-8 weeks to put on socks/shoes, so they need to be taught different techniques. We also go over home modifications that can be made and transfer techniques for getting into and out of the shower, out of a chair, or in and out of bed.

We then work with an individual who is recovering from a stroke. She has limited mobility in her right arm and hand. We work on techniques to increase strength and retrain the brain to once again control and use this arm. In the meantime we focus on practicing dressing, cooking, washing, transferring, and any other meaningful task that the she has to complete with just one arm. Try going throughout your day with just one arm, we take for granted the very simple tasks!

I round out my day with doing home health visits for people that want to stay in their home, but need some guidance for increased safety. We then work with nursing home residents, to work on increasing their independence within the facility. Just because they are in a nursing home, it does not mean they lose all independence. As an occupational therapist I can help determine what they can and cannot do safely, providing insight into offering the best care for this resident.

I only scratched the surface as to what occupational therapists can do. I did not even discuss job site analysis/industrial rehabilitation, driving evaluations, feeding therapy for children, school based therapy for children, vision rehabilitation, Parkinson’s rehabilitation, and so much more. Occupational therapy is a very broad field with a very specific focus: helping people become more independent in their daily occupations/tasks.

The relationships that I build with clients on a daily basis is by far my favorite part of the job. Working in a small town, I run into former and current clients quite frequently. As therapists we enter into people’s lives during a time of uncertainty: surgeries, pain, and life altering diagnoses. Often times I feel that I have been more impacted by the clients I serve, rather than them by me.

The mission of Sioux Center Health and the commitment to being the hands and feet of Jesus’ healing ministry definitely impacts the work I do with different clients. I also work with the most gifted, caring, and passionate physical therapists and speech therapist to offer comprehensive rehabilitation services. The therapists at Sioux Center Health would love to journey with you on your path to recovery. We look forward to serving you in the future and helping you reach your goals!