Occupational therapist Tamra Councilman works with patient Peter Gegenheimer. Photo credit: Earl Richardson
Occupational therapy: Helping people regain function in everyday life
If you’ve ever broken your wrist, had a nerve or brain injury, your doctor may have prescribed a course of occupational therapy. But don’t let the name fool you – occupational therapy isn’t meant just to get people back to work. So if it isn’t that, what is it?
Occupational therapy is treatment used to help people become independent in all aspects of their lives. It’s used for people recovering from illness or injury, children and adults with disabilities and people with age-related concerns to help improve motor skills, balance and coordination. Therapists work in hospitals or therapy clinics, while others work in schools, nursing homes and home health services to help patients regain the skills needed to do everyday tasks.
“Occupational therapists (OTs) help people regain function in everyday life,” said Maria Perdikis,
LMH Health occupational therapist. “Following an injury or illness, we help you get back to your prior level of function or the maximum level you can achieve.”
For 23 years, Perdikis has worked with patients at LMH Health by helping them learn new ways to do activities, making changes to living or work environments and adapting equipment and everyday items to help them regain mobility and independence. Patients who have experienced neurologic issues, such as a stroke, benefit from participating in occupational therapy.
“Stroke patients can be affected by any number of things – fine motor skills, gross motor coordination, range of motion and functional strength. On the inpatient side, we help patients with activities of daily living – getting in and out of bed, getting to the bathroom or shower, getting dressed – whatever they were able to do before coming into the hospital and doing it safely,” she said.
Jamie Starcevich, a Certified Hand Therapist at the LMH Health West Campus, said people receiving therapy in an orthopedic setting may confuse physical and occupational therapy. While physical therapists deal more with neck, back, leg and knee injuries in an orthopedic setting, occupational therapists focus on the upper extremities.
“In an orthopedic setting, we’re trying to get strength, mobility and function back for people who’ve had
injuries to the shoulder, elbow, wrist and hand,” she said. “We see people who’ve had fractures, tendon injuries, localized nerve injuries like carpal and cubital tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, repetitive strain and injuries where muscles, joints or nerves have been disrupted.”
What should I expect?
During the first visit with an occupational therapist, no matter whether you’re an inpatient or visit one of our outpatient or orthopedic clinics, expect to undergo a thorough evaluation. The therapist will interview you, get information about your medical history and ask questions to learn how the injury occurred.
“Depending on your diagnosis, I may take measurements, including range of motion, strength, function and sensation. Armed with that information, I’ll create a plan of care and use that as a baseline to do a reassessment after a few weeks to see how you’re progressing,” Perdikis said.
There’s not a one-size-fits-all plan for occupational therapy patients. Treatment length is dependent on your type of injury, treatment plan and the timeline for healing.
“We may see post-operative patients right away, work with them frequently as they begin to heal and wean those down as they begin to do more on their own at home. Patients who have fractures may not be able to do as much in the beginning, so we ramp up the frequency of their visits with time,” said Starcevich.
Specialized orthopedic care
Orthopedic patients receiving occupational therapy benefit from comprehensive multidisciplinary care at the LMH Health West Campus. Starcevich said having state-of-the-art equipment and the physicians from OrthoKansas in close proximity helps to enhance the care she provides.
“If I’ve got a question about a patient’s treatment plan or what something looks like on their imaging, I’m able to discuss that with the doctors on site. That’s a huge benefit for us and the patient,” she said.
Upper extremity injuries to the hand, wrist or elbow may require patients to have a cast or removable splint as part of their care. Splints can be used to increase functional use, range of motion, for pain relief and to protect healing and prevent further damage.
“The therapy clinic at the West Campus is one of the few places in Lawrence that provides custom splinting,” Starcevich said. “We make the splint on site during your appointment using a thermoplastic material heated in warm water. Each one we make is unique and molded to fit you.”
Whether you’re an inpatient at the hospital or visiting one of our outpatient clinics, turn to LMH Health when you need occupational therapy.
“We have a great group of compassionate therapists dedicated to what they do. Let us help you on your road to recovery,” said Perdikis.