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April 26, 2011 > Occupational Therapists Help People Regain Tools for Living

Occupational Therapists Help People Regain Tools for Living

April is Occupational Therapy Month

An injury or illness can have a devastating effect on people's lives. Even a minor impairment can interrupt your life, and a major one can keep you from doing the most basic tasks needed for daily living. What if you couldn't button your shirt or comb your hair?

Occupational therapists help people who have experienced a fall, sports injury, workplace accident, repetitive-strain injury or other type of injury or illness regain the skills they need to get on with life, whether that means getting dressed in the morning, going to work, or getting back to the activities they enjoy. April is Occupational Therapy Month, a time to recognize the valuable contributions that occupational therapists make in the lives of so many.

"Our occupational therapists focus on problems with the shoulder, elbow, wrist, and hands," said Sharmi Mukherjee, MPT, manager of the Washington Outpatient Rehabilitation Center. "We see a lot of people with repetitive-strain injuries, elbow tendonitis, sports injuries, arthritis, really a wide range of issues."

She said the first step for any patient who comes to the Washington Outpatient Rehabilitation Center is a thorough evaluation to determine pain levels, strength, and range of motion abilities. Patients must be referred to the rehab center by their doctors.

A customized treatment plan is developed for each patient based on their abilities and goals. The goals may be different depending on the severity of the injury and age of the patient, Mukherjee explained. For example, an elderly patient who has suffered a major stroke may just want to be able to bathe and dress themselves, while a younger person with a sports injury may want to regain the skills needed to get back to work.

Both occupational therapists and physical therapists, as well as occupational therapy assistants and physical therapy assistants, help patients get back to their previous levels of functioning. Physical therapists tend to focus more on strength, mobility, and fitness while occupational therapists tend to help patients regain the skills they need for daily living.


Repetitive-Strain Injuries

Repetitive-strain injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome are common and can make it difficult for people to type on a computer, make a fist, grab an object, or hold on to something small. According to Mukherjee, occupational therapists at the Washington Outpatient Rehabilitation Center see a number of patients with carpal tunnel syndrome, a painful disorder of the wrist and hand. Carpal tunnel affects up to 10 million people in this country, according to the American College of Rheumatology.

The carpal tunnel is located at the wrist on the palm side of the hand just beneath the skin. The median nerve passes through the carpal tunnel and when it gets squeezed or pressed, it causes pain, weakness, or numbness.

"Some people report a tingling sensation in their hands or fingers," Mukherjee said. "This type of repetitive-strain injury can result in a loss of hand function and our occupational therapists can help people regain that function."

The Washington Outpatient Rehabilitation Center offers specialized hand therapy that includes hand exercises designed to improve flexibility, range of motion, and dexterity. Treatment could also include the use of custom splints, according to Mukherjee. The splint stabilizes the wrist in a neutral position, which alleviates pressure on the carpal tunnel and helps to reduce inflammation.

Occupational therapists at the Washington Outpatient Rehabilitation Center help patients of all ages and abilities and are an important part of the health care team, Mukherjee said.

"Occupational therapists can make a big difference in the lives of people who need to regain skills so they can get back to their lives," she added. "I see it every day."

The Washington Outpatient Rehabilitation Center is located at 39141 Civic Center Drive in Fremont. To learn more about the rehab center, visit www.whhs.com/facilities/outpatient_rehab or call (510) 794-9672. To learn more about occupational therapy, visit www.aota.org.

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