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Occupational therapy a vital healthcare link

In response to, “Ortho-expo explores treatment options,” from the May 7 edition of the Suffolk-News Herald, I was struck by the need to inform others about occupational therapy, which is distinct from physical therapy.

Occupational therapists “help the patient achieve maximal function of body and limb and to restore independence” (Occupational Therapy for Physical Dysfunction, Catherine A. Trombly, 4th ed., 1995). In other words, occupational therapists equip patients with tools needed to care for themselves as independently as possible, while observing precautions outlined by the physician.

Many people don’t realize that after hip replacement, certain movements — like bending past 90 degrees, crossing legs and turning toes inward — are usually not allowed. These limitations often necessitate changes in activities like driving, bathing and positioning for sexual intercourse.

Additionally, obese patients and people with back problems often find it difficult to bend, bathe, dress and clean themselves after toileting. When possible, the occupational therapist teaches them to perform those tasks using different methods, so that relying on others is not the only option.

As stated in the aforementioned article, orthopedic procedures “are no longer just for middle-aged or older populations.” More and more, they are for people who are very motivated to return to their previous level of function. Although most people’s recovery does not require prolonged involvement with occupational therapy, assessment and training are necessary to return to the active lifestyle most people expect.

The American Occupational Therapy Association has a slogan: “Occupational Therapy provides skills for the job of living.” The orthopedist works to provide a new joint. The physical therapist works to increase range of motion and strength.

The occupational therapist trains, educates and supports patients as they pursue the goal of a more independent lifestyle, which is usually the reason for having surgery in the first place!