Arthritis, or joint inflammation, causes pain, stiffness, and swelling in the joints such as the fingers, neck, back, hips, and knees. Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, is swelling of the joints caused by the wearing down of joint tissue and cartilage. Osteoarthritis affects the weight-bearing joints of the arms and legs, such as the knees, hips, shoulders, elbows, ankles, and thumbs, and often can be improved by joint replacement surgery. Rheumatoid arthritis is a long-term disorder that can involve the major organs of the body. It causes painful swelling of the legs, arms, and spine. The disease may worsen over time and lead to irreparable joint damage.
The pain caused by arthritis can affect how a person functions in the home and workplace. Occupational Therapists can suggest modifications to help people with arthritis avoid stress to the joints so they can continue to work and live independently.
What can an Occupational Therapist do?
- Make custom splints to rest or support limbs.
- Design adaptive equipment or recommend assistive devices to help the client function better in daily activities.
- Evaluate the client’s home or workplace and suggest changes and modifications that will make arthritis less of a challenge.
- Advise what exercises can relieve the pain of arthritis and what activities to avoid.
- Determine the psychological effects of arthritis, such as depression and emotional stress resulting from lack of sleep because of pain, disfigurement, or an inability to complete certain meaningful tasks. Occupational Therapists can recommend coping strategies to counter emotional effects.
What can a person with arthritis do?
- Wrap foam, cloth, or tape around the handles of objects, such as knives and cooking pots and pans to cushion and enlarge the grip. Household and gardening tools with larger, ergonomically designed handles are available for sale in many stores.
- Avoid lifting heavy objects by using carts or carriers with wheels to move suitcases, garbage cans, grocery bags, etc.
- Use a jar opener to avoid twisting the fingers and hands. Replace round doorknobs and faucet handles with lever-style handles.
- Pace yourself. Separate daily tasks, including leisure activities, into manageable amounts, and take breaks when necessary.
Need more information?
All forms of arthritis are serious and can affect many aspects of life, including work and leisure activities. If you would like to consult an Occupational Therapist, practitioners are available through most hospitals, medical centers, and clinics. Contact your doctor or other local health officials for more information.
Occupational Therapists and occupational therapy assistants are trained in helping both adults and children with a broad range of physical, developmental, and behavioral conditions in addition to arthritis, such as low back pain, mood disorders, and substance use disorders. Occupational therapy practitioners also advise people in home modification and in preventing falls, and help clients in wellness techniques that may prevent injury and disease.