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Occupational therapy: What you need to know to get back to life

Posted April 26, 2021 by Megan Copen MS, OTR/L

Woman lifting a water bottle

You recently suffered a stroke. You’re recovering well, except that you’re still struggling with weakness in your left leg, along with balance and coordination issues. Your provider has referred you to an occupational therapist (OT) to help overcome these challenges so you can get back to work. 

But you and other patients in similar circumstances may be wondering, what exactly is occupational therapy? We often hear about physical therapy and its benefits to a patient after an injury or operation, but what’s the difference? What does occupational therapy entail and when is it necessary?

Summa Health answers your questions about occupational therapy and how this valuable treatment can help you and many patients alike get back to life after surgery, illness or a disability.

What is occupational therapy?

Occupational therapy is designed to help restore basic motor function, cognitive and emotional skills you need to regain independence to perform your everyday tasks at home, school or work. A doctor may refer patients to an OT if they are disabled or recovering from an operation, medical event or illness, such as a stroke.

Physical therapy, on the other hand, is strictly focused on improving a patient’s mobility, managing pain and preventing future injuries.

To enhance quality of life, OTs can help you improve your abilities to carry out daily tasks, such as:

  • Personal hygiene, including bathing, dressing and other personal care
  • Household activities, including cooking, cleaning and other domestic tasks
  • Sleeping
  • Sexual activity
  • Eating
  • Driving
  • Going to work or school
  • Participating in hobbies or social activities
  • OTs work in hospitals, specialist offices and other health centers, as well as schools and nursing homes.

    What can you expect from occupational therapy?

    OTs work with patients of all ages to help those with physical, sensory or cognitive problems regain independence in all areas of their lives. They may use a combination of treatments, such as adapting an environment, modifying a task, teaching skills or educating, to help you perform daily tasks.

    An OT will begin with a comprehensive assessment of your needs to help you identify and set goals. The therapist will ask about your abilities and medical history. The OT may also evaluate your home, school or work environment to check for ways to improve them.

    Then together, you and your OT will design a custom treatment plan to help you reach your goals. The plan may include methods or equipment to help your carry out those activities.

    For example, if you’re struggling to bathe yourself, the therapist may suggest handrails in the shower. If you are suffering from memory loss, the OT may suggest labeling kitchen cabinets so you can find cooking supplies each time you go to make dinner.

    Typically, an OT will work with you to help you:

  • Adapt a work environment so you can remain employed
  • Regain skills after recovering from an illness or injury
  • Build skills to remember important items, despite cognitive impairment
  • Participate in school, social activities, hobbies or sports, despite disabilities
  • In addition, OTs can offer guidance and support for caregivers and family members.

    After a few weeks or months, the OT will assess your progress and make adjustments, if necessary, to your treatment plan to ensure you’re on track to meeting your goals.

    With guidance from an OT, you can develop, regain or maintain the daily living and work skills necessary to achieve independence in all areas of your life.

    Summa Health’s occupational therapy program evaluates and treats post-stroke and other neurological issues, as well as provides valuable services in the area of ergonomic assessments and return-to-work programs for injured workers. To schedule an appointment, call 234.867.7965.


    Options to Request an Appointment

    If your situation is an emergency, call 911.