Occupational therapy is focused on maintaining and improving the ability to engage in daily activities, whether self-care, paid work or leisure pursuits. An occupational therapist can help people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) preserve their quality of life by finding ways to work around disabilities. Your therapist will carefully tailor a program to your specific challenges and goals.
Symptoms such as joint pain, swelling, and stiffness lead many people with RA to curtail their activities and become increasingly sedentary and isolated. However, by addressing the challenges that people with RA face, occupational therapy can make it easier to stay independent, active and engaged in their lives.
What does it involve?
Depending on what state you live in and what type of insurance you have, you may require a referral from your doctor in order to see an occupational therapist. Occupational therapists may have private practices or work at clinics, schools, skilled nursing facilities or home care agencies.
At your first occupational therapy session, the therapist will ask you detailed questions about the activities with which you are having trouble. They will identify personal factors such as your RA symptoms, physical condition, and emotional health; environmental factors such as assistive devices and social support networks; and occupational factors such as the demands and timing of the tasks on which you want to focus. In addition, they might perform tests to evaluate your range of motion or muscle strength.
Using all of this information, the occupational therapist will set goals for your therapy. Goals might be finding ways to compensate for disability, preventing injury, or regaining or retaining abilities. Specific examples of occupational therapy interventions include making adjustments to your work or home environments to allow for easier movement or mobility; learning new ways to perform tasks such as bathing, dressing, or preparing meals; or learning how to choose and use assistive devices.
The goal of occupational therapy in general is to keep people engaged in meaningful, productive activities despite the challenges they face.
An article published in 2004 reviewed 58 studies of occupational therapy used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. The researchers concluded that there is evidence that occupational therapy improves functional ability in people with RA.
Most types of insurance will only pay for a limited number of occupational therapy appointments.