How Occupational Therapy Can Help People with RA at Home and at Work

Patient Expert

“Squat and stand like a rooster!” These were the immortal words of the occupational therapist (OT) who has been helping myself and my attendants in the past few weeks. We are working on tweaking the way we do my transfer from my wheelchair to bed (shower chair, toilet, etc.) to minimize risk of injury. Turns out that my attendant assuming a completely undignified stance will enable me to do more of the work, while increasing the safety of the transfer itself. The sessions have been wonderfully helpful and also very funny!

Helping you use the right body mechanics when doing certain tasks is not the only way an OT can help you function better with RA.

What is occupational therapy?

Occupational therapy is a type of rehabilitation medicine. OTs can help you solve problems that interfere with you being able to do the things you love. If you experience problems taking care of yourself, working, or doing leisure activities, an OT can put together a program that can help you improve your ability, and recommend adaptive equipment. They can also train you how to use that equipment, as well as guide family and caregivers in helping you.

If you think an OT could be helpful for you, ask your doctor for a referral. You can also hire one privately, and do a search on Find an Occupational Therapist to get a list of OTs in your area. Check with your insurance to see if you have coverage.

Occupational therapy at home

The first time people with RA see an OT, it is often related to getting splints for their hands. OT’s are experts in finding the right splints for your particular problem, providing support and rest for the joint in question.

An OT can also help you with many other areas in your home. People with RA have a higher risk of falling, and the highest risk for falling is in the bathroom. There are a number of things an OT can recommend to help reduce the risk. These include a shower chair, sticky rubber decals for the bottom of your tub, and grab bars.

You might not like the idea of having this type of equipment in your bathroom — grab bars are just for the elderly, aren’t they? Well, no. They are for anyone who might have a higher risk of falling and with RA, that’s you, too. Think of it this way - this type of equipment is simply a tool to protect you and could make the difference between getting on with your day, and a broken hip.

The kitchen is also a notorious place for reminding you of the limits RA can impose. For many, it’s the moment when you have to ask your 10 year old for help in getting the lid off the pickle jar. Here, too, an OT can suggest tools and gadgets that can make you more independent in the kitchen, as well as reduce your pain as you cook.

Kitchen gadgets can include sticky mats to keep bowls in place, and help you open jars. Utensils and cutlery created for arthritis hands, suggestions for automation, and how to reduce pain. A common suggestion is to get a stool for the kitchen to take the strain off your legs.

An OT can also give you suggestions on how to manage chores, better ways of cleaning, shopping, and yardwork.

Occupational Therapy at work

Are you having trouble at work because of your RA? An OT can help with that, too! Talk to your supervisor or human resources department about getting an ergonomic assessment of your workspace.

An OT can evaluate how and where you work and make recommendations for accommodations that can make work easier for you. As a person with a chronic illness, you are legally entitled to accommodations, or modifications, as long as they enable you to do the essential duties of the job. Accommodations are usually not expensive — on average, they cost $500 or less.

There are a range of modifications possible for someone who lives with RA. It can include adding adaptive equipment, such as voice recognition software. Another possibility is changes to equipment, like a spinner ball on the steering wheel of a forklift. It can also be incorporating added flexibility into a schedule, such as flextime, working from home, regular breaks, or the ability to take a short nap during the lunch hour.

Negotiating these types of accommodations can be difficult when you’re not an expert. This is where an OT can be extremely helpful. Not only do they have the expertise to recommend a variety of modifications that can help you work, but they also have the negotiation skills to make the arrangements with your employer.

Have you ever used an OT?

See more helpful articles:

The Benefits of Occupational Therapy to Treat RA

Health Resources to Cope with RA

10 Ways to Make Daily Life Easier with Arthritis

A Beginner’s Guide to RA: Working for a Living

Keeping Mobile: Physical Therapy and RA