Occupational therapy helps patients get back to their everyday lives
If you’ve ever broken your wrist or 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 just meant to get people back to work.
Occupational therapy is used to help people become independent in all aspects of their lives. It’s used for many kinds of patients who need help improving their motor skills, balance and coordination: people recovering from illness or injury, people with disabilities and patients with age-related concerns. It can take place in a variety of settings — hospitals or therapy clinics, schools, nursing homes and home health services — to help patients regain the skills needed to do everyday tasks.
“Occupational therapists help people regain function in everyday life,” said Maria Perdikis, an occupational therapist at LMH Health. “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 — 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 neurological 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,” Perdikis said. “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.”
Jamie Starcevich, a certified hand therapist at the LMH Health West Campus, said people receiving therapy in an orthopedic setting might confuse physical and occupational therapy. Physical therapists deal more with neck, back, leg and knee injuries in an orthopedic setting, while 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, you should expect to undergo a thorough evaluation. That applies to both inpatients and outpatients. 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,” Perdikis said. “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.”
There’s no one-size-fits-all plan for occupational therapy patients. How long the treatment lasts will depend on the patient’s type of injury, their treatment plan and other factors.
“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,” Starcevich said. “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.”
Specialized orthopedic care
At LMH Health’s West Campus, high-tech equipment is available to help with orthopedic care. Starcevich said she appreciates the technology, as well as the fact that physicians from OrthoKansas are on the campus.
“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,” she said. “That’s a huge benefit for us and the patient.”
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 and range of motion; to relieve pain; and to facilitate 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.”
Perdikis encouraged those in need of treatment to reach out to a provider.
“We have a great group of compassionate therapists dedicated to what they do. Let us help you on your road to recovery,” Perdikis said.
— Autumn Bishop is the marketing communications manager at LMH Health, which is a major sponsor of the Journal-World’s Health section.