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Occupational Therapy: What Is It, How Does It Help, Who Should See An OT [Podcast]

Posted March 24, 2022 by Dr. Craig Wood

Listen to this episode of the Healthy Vitals Podcast.

Craig Wood leads a discussion focusing on occupational therapy, its benefits, and why he got into the field.

Featured Guests:

Craig Wood, OTR/L
Craig Wood, OTR/L is an Occupational Therapist at Summa Health for 26 years. Graduated with a Bachelor's degree majoring in psychology from the University of Akron. Post Baccalaureate Certificate in Occupational Therapy from Cleveland State University. OT career has been primarily in outpatient industrial rehab. More recently in upper extremity rehabilitation.


Scott Webb (Host)
: Though there is a lot of crossover between occupational therapy and physical therapy, there are some differences and knowing which one is the best fit for your needs can lead to developing a more effective treatment plan. And joining me today to tell us about occupational therapy and what caused him to make a major career change is Craig Wood. He's an occuptational therapist with Summa Health. This is Healthy Vitals, a podcast from Summa Health. I'm Scott Webb. Craig, thanks so much for being on today. I think most of us know what physical therapy is, but I want to have you explain to the audience what occupational therapy is.

Craig Wood, OTR/L (Guest): Well, occupational therapy is rehabilitation that focuses on your ability to perform activities of daily living. So if you're a truck driver with a broken wrist, we're going to help you restore your strength, range of motion and function, so that you're able to return to work. If you're an elderly person that has had a stroke, we're going to help you figure out how you're going to perform grooming, bathing, dressing, feeding, things like that. We are very focused on function. Whereas physical therapy is focused, probably more on mobility. There's a lot of overlap between the two fields though.

Host: Yeah, I see what you mean. And there definitely is some overlap, but good to understand exactly what occupational therapy. And maybe we can drill down just a little bit more and have some examples of occupational therapy and how you're able to help patients on a daily basis.

Craig: I can think of a heavy equipment operator that we helped recover from back surgery in our work conditioning program. We did a lot of work simulation and just progressively increased his strength and range of motion with his spine and the helping him develop the endurance to go back to doing the things that he had to do on the job.

We've had patients with tendon lacerations in here and they come in for like a splint after surgery. And so we do a lot of splinting, hand splinting. In the areas that I don't work in, but other occupational therapists do, like pediatrics, you might help a child with a developmental disability, develop trunk strength so that they can sit up or play or get dressed easier.

Sometimes you might help them learn how to write. An adult with multiple sclerosis, you're going to help them learn how to get the most out of their day, through pacing techniques, adaptive equipment, or teaching them what exercises are helpful. And we could work in mental health, people with mental health issues, helping them get back to independent living.

Host: Yeah. And you can see there's just a wide range of benefits to patients. And I'm wondering what brought you into this field? What drew you to occupational therapy?

Craig: Well, it's interesting. It was a career change for me. I was a personnel manager in manufacturing, and I didn't feel it was a good fit and I really wanted to help people. When I started thinking about physical therapy actually going back to school and but when I became familiar with what occupational therapy does, I thought it was a better fit and a blend of everything I had done. I specifically wanted to go into industrial rehab and hand therapy and that's exactly what I'm doing now. So it was just a much better fit. And even though it was a career change, I wasn't kind of wasting any of the experience that I had already had.

Host: Yeah, that's very cool, how you could bring some of your own work experience to this career change. And you mentioned earlier that PT is a little bit different than OT if you will, but maybe you can explain in a little more detail, the differences between the two. And if somebody knows that they need some help, right with whatever it is, an injury on the job or just struggles in life, how do they choose which one? Or does somebody else really choose for them?

Craig: Well, honestly, your doctor can help you make that choice. There are a lot of similarities, as I mentioned. We actually take a lot of the same classes initially when we're going through the program and things like anatomy, physiology, neurology, we both address things like pain, range motion, strength, and function, but physical therapy focuses more on mobility, learning how to walk or improving your ability to reach overhead. So movement. Occupational therapy focuses more on how you're going to perform activities of daily living. In an orthopedic clinic we tend to perform rehabilitation on the upper extremities. Whereas the physical therapist will focus more on the spine and the lower extremities. There are some areas of overlap, as I said, and it might depend on who you see in the specific clinic that you choose to go to because we all develop specialties within our fields.

Host: Yeah. And do you find that folks that are suffering or need assistance that they often just don't reach out in a timely manner? That by the time they're finally sitting there with you, you realize that their quality of life has been suffering for a long time?

Craig: Absolutely. And I think a lot of people are fearful of therapy. They think that therapy can be painful. And if you're having a lot of pain, that's usually one of the first things we're going to try to address. Also, I think it's important that people know that getting to therapy sooner is usually results in a better outcome.

Usually when you have a significant injury or illness, there's a window of time where you're going to get back the greatest level of function. And the sooner you get to therapy, sometimes the better the outcome.

Host: Yeah, I'm sure. And we find that a lot in medicine in hosting these that you know, folks tend to put things off, tend to delay things, especially during COVID. And as you say, the outcomes are better, the sooner we get to these things. And you've discussed some of the physical benefits, but I'm wondering if there's also some mental or emotional benefits to folks reaching out, to going through occupational therapy, to getting back, you know, the functioning and functionality that they had before. You know, am I thinking too hard about this? Is there also some emotional or mental benefits of occupational theory?

Craig: Oh, absolutely. I think, you know, if you had a major injury or you develop a significant illness, the more independent you can become, which is what we're trying to help you do the more self-esteem you're going to have. I just think it's an important piece that, that we provide a lot of benefits mentally for patients.

Host: Yeah, I'm sure a lot of it has to just do with a confidence, as you said, self-esteem plus the physical benefits. What's one thing or some advice you have that you wish everybody knew about occupational therapy or as they're struggling with mobility, pain, whatever it might be. What do you wish everybody knew?

Craig: You don't know what you don't know. And I recommend you give therapy a chance because you may have of significant injury that is preventing you from doing things independently. And that's what we're going to focus on. You may not know what adaptive equipment is out there or how well it can work for you. And we can give you the opportunity to try those things or suggest things that you may not have thought of. We're going to focus on the things that you probably don't know to do after a major injury, that's going to help you get back to the optimal level of function.

Host: Yeah, and I'm sure it's on some level too you help folks to avoid injury in the future. Right? You give them whatever it might be different therapies, different exercises they can do you, as you say, technologies as well, so that they can, you know, avoid reinjuring or avoid new injuries, right?

Craig: Oh, that is absolutely correct. We are very big on focusing on body mechanics to help you perform activities safely and get the most out of your day. We just do a lot of education as to what's out there for people and what's appropriate for them personally.

Host: Yeah, as you said, we don't know what we don't know. And education of course is always key and April is occupational therapy month. So I'm wondering if you have a story you could share about a particularly, you know, great moment in your career, some way in which you helped someone that really impacted their life and yours.

Craig: I've been an occupational therapist for over 26 years. And there's been so many patients that have made remarkable progress in therapy. I don't know that it's fair to say that one was more meaningful than another, but I can tell you, I still remember the name of my first patient and I can remember how grateful I was that I was in a position to help them.

I remember some of the patients in our work conditioning program that were able to get back to a job they never thought they would be able to get back to. I remember a stroke patients that couldn't move their fingers, regain the ability to hold something. There's been so many great moments over the course of my career. I am grateful for being able to work as a occupational therapist.

Host: Yeah, that's good to hear. And I'm sure just along the way, you know, you, people come in and they're in pain and they're unhappy a lot of frowns. And just seeing those smiling faces leave, knowing that you've helped folks, I'm sure it's just very rewarding. So great to learn more about you today, more about occupational therapy and you stay well.

Craig: You too, Scott. Thank you very much.

Host: And if you or someone, you know, could benefit from occupational therapy, visit to learn more. And if you found this podcast to be helpful and informative, please share it on your social channels and be sure to check out the full podcast library for additional topics of interest. This is Healthy Vitals, a podcast from Summa Health. I'm Scott Webb. Stay well, and we'll talk again next time.

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