What Is Occupational Therapy And When Do You Need It?

Occupational Therapy
Occupational therapist helping patient to walk

Occupational therapy is a form of treatment that helps you cope with pain, injuries, or disabilities that make it hard for you to go on with your daily living activities. This form of treatment addresses sensory, cognitive, and physical problems to allow you to maintain your quality of life.

For instance, if your hands get amputated, you might need help doing several chores, such as bathing or cooking. Occupational therapy can provide you with adaptive tools and methods to help you do such chores with minimal to no supervision at all.

One can think of this form of treatment as a holistic way of addressing physical, mental, emotional, and social needs in the face of difficult odds.

How Does Occupational Therapy Work?

This treatment is available to everyone regardless of age or circumstances. When a person needs aid to overcome obstacles caused by disease, disability, or chronic pain, an occupational therapist (OT) can assess their situation and help them make the necessary adaptations.

They work in hospitals, schools, rehabilitation facilities, and mental health centers. Some even visit clients at home. Their duties include:

  • Training patients to use assistive devices such as wheelchairs
  • Teaching new adaptive skills and developing treatment plans
  • Introducing patients to new methods of movement that reduce the risk of problems like loss of balance
  • Organizing your medication and essential household items
  • Addressing behavior-related issues such as lashing out or withdrawing from contact
  • Building hand-eye coordination

The extent of therapy depends on the patient’s condition and their overall goals for wellness.

Occupational Therapy Treatment Methods

Since occupational therapy aims to treat a variety of issues, OTs use different treatment options. These are customized according to every patient’s unique needs. Here are some commonly used ones:

  • Therapeutic exercises: These exercises help the patient improve their mobility, strength, balance, range of motion, and other physical faculties. They have the same aim as physiotherapy services, which is restoring a person’s capacity for independent movement.
  • Orthosis: They’re long-term splints that help correct deformities and improve muscle strength.
  • Prosthesis: These are devices that replace or augment body parts damaged by trauma or disease. The most common ones are artificial limbs, which amputees use to recover their ability to move freely.
  • Biofeedback: This method seeks to develop the connection between physiological processes and the nervous system to help patients achieve helpful changes, like regulating their response to pain.
  • Neurodevelopmental treatment: This method involves training or retraining bodily functions that may be affected by neurological disorders.

Some treatment options involve using adaptive equipment, while others work by modifying environments to better meet a patient’s needs.

When Do You Need Occupational Therapy?

As mentioned earlier, occupational therapy is helpful when you’re going through pain or injuries that may get in the way of your daily living. Here are some of the reasons why you would need occupational therapy:

  • To Be Able To Take Care Of Yourself

If you have injuries or health conditions that limit your use of your limbs, it may be difficult to handle your own daily living routines. Fortunately, you can work with an OT to help you get back on your feet.

They can introduce you to a variety of tools and techniques that promote personal independence. Some of these involve adaptive strategies that ensure you don’t use too much energy or strain yourself. Others include making some form of adjustment in your environment to make tasks easier. With their help, you can perform activities like bathing, grooming, and putting on clothes by yourself with ease.

For example, if you have difficulty articulating your hands to dry yourself with a towel after showering, they may suggest putting bathrobes on pegs close to the shower area. That way, you don’t have to strain yourself every time you need to get dry.

  • To Decrease Pain And Build Strength

Occupation therapy helps individuals improve their endurance and ability to carry out daily tasks. Remember, body movements involve a lot of different moving parts that have to work together.

For example, if your shoulder muscles are compromised by an injury, the nearby muscles also experience difficulty. This can result in pain and even more injuries.

In this case, an occupational therapist can analyze your situation and develop a specialized exercise program aimed at reducing pain while increasing your range of motion. This goes a long way in recovering your ability to move freely.

  • To Improve Or Augment Vision

Some conditions impair your ability to see, making moving around at home and outdoors difficult and even risky.

Occupational therapists may provide you with tools that address the root cause of your visual problems. They can even teach you adaptive skills such as feeling objects around you or using walking sticks to maintain your bearings in your surroundings.

  • To Better Serve Patient Needs As A Caregiver

Most of the duties of an occupational therapist are related to those of a caregiver. Thus, if you’re a caregiver, you may need guidance in handling patients undergoing rehab.

On that note, you can work with your client’s attending occupational therapist to better understand how to take care of them. This increases the chances of their care plan yielding positive results. With their guidance, you also get to contribute to a patient’s efforts to regain independence.

  • To Learn How To Make Your Home Safer

After hip replacement or back surgery, you may need extensive home modifications to safely recover. Occupational therapists are experts in adaptive equipment and home modifications. After assessing your home and your condition, they can advise you on how to make your home more conducive to your wellness. These include rearranging furniture to expand your walking space or changing lights to improve visibility.

Working with an occupational therapist also lets you access adaptive equipment that can assist with your recovery journey.

  • To Receive Emotional Support

Occupational therapy is holistic, addressing several aspects of a patient’s everyday life, including their emotional well-being.

For some people with disabilities or debilitating conditions, it’s common to experience feelings of inadequacy or despair. Some are unjustly subjected to prejudice (at work, at school, or anywhere outside the home) or plain bullying, severely affecting their self-esteem. Those who get injured may even experience trauma from the cause of their situation or guilt from feeling like a burden on others.

All of these feelings are valid, and they’re not wrong for having them. However, these shouldn’t stop them from continuing to find a way to live well.

For cases like these, OTs can provide emotional counseling, helping patients process their feelings and empowering them to overcome them. They may also provide referrals to specialists for more specific interventions, like psychotherapy.

  • To Participate In School And Your Hobbies

Some patients who undergo occupational therapy are actually students. These kids often have it rough at school; despite extensive efforts to curb ableist behavior, many children are still subjected to harassment or bullying due to circumstances out of their control, including disabilities and health disorders. This often results in some of them refusing to continue their studies or dropping out altogether.

Occupational therapy can lend a hand. OTs can equip children and faculty with the tools they need to accommodate challenges to their academic activities. These can include specialized chairs and mobility aids. This way, kids with physical or mental challenges can still participate in school, do hobbies, and pursue their studies.

  • To Learn How To Use Special Medical Equipment

After surgery or a stroke, you may have to use special medical equipment. An OT can aid you and your loved ones on how to use them well and maintain them throughout your journey to recovery.

Some of these pieces of medical equipment include:

  • Front-wheel walkers
  • Crutches
  • Reachers
  • Sock aids
  • Elastic laces
  • Non-slip bath mats
  • Shoe horns
  • Hip cushions
  • Raised toilet seats


  • To Aid Patients On The Autism Spectrum

People with autism greatly benefit from working with OTs. They provide comprehensive care plans to help them overcome their unique challenges and live with dignity.

The earlier a person on the spectrum gets started on an occupational therapy program, the better. Autism is a developmental disorder, which means that patients benefit more from getting the interventions they need at every stage of their growth.

OT plans for persons on the spectrum typically involve the building of key skills. These are tackled through a variety of skill-based and play-based tasks. Some of them include:

  • Push and pull games
  • Sand play
  • Skipping rope
  • Ladder climbing
  • Playdough
  • Exercise band activities


If you’re facing challenges that make daily living difficult, you may find the solutions you need through occupational therapy. Occupational therapists can help you manage chronic pain, adapt to the limitations of your disease, or overcome your disability. Their holistic approach is particularly helpful in addressing all aspects of your wellness, including physical, mental, emotional, and social. With their aid, finding a semblance of control and empowerment in your life is within reach.

Talk to your physician and see if occupational therapy is for you.

I'm NOT a doctor! I'm just passionate about health and healthy leaving. The information on this website, such as graphics, images, text and all other materials, is provided for reference and educational purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or other medical professional. The content is not intended to be complete or exhaustive or to apply to any specific individual's medical condition.