The Benefits of Occupational Therapy to Treat RA

Did you know that occupational therapy can help you function better in your daily life despite your RA?  An occupational therapist can give you tips on how to move better, along with tools you can use at home and work to help you complete activities of daily living.

The Difference Between Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy

People tend to hear a lot about physical therapy as opposed to occupational therapy in the treatment of RA, so it’s important to first differentiate between physical and occupational therapy.  There is a significant amount of overlap between physical therapy and occupational therapy.  Both physical therapy and occupational therapy fit under the umbrella of rehabilitation services.  They both require training in anatomy and the musculoskeletal system.  However, despite these similarities, there are key distinctions, as well.

Physical therapy focuses on the movement of the human body and is used to treat injuries.  The goal of physical therapy is to increase movement, decrease pain, increase ability, and lessen the chance of permanent disability.  Physical therapists work on strengthening muscles and mobility.  They can provide information on assistive devices, such as wheelchairs, walkers, cane, and braces.

Occupational therapy is designed to focus on treating impairments and functional limitations.  The goal of occupational therapy is to help patients increase their ability to do activities that take place in everyday life, also known as activities of daily living, and to increase the patient’s independence.  Examples of these activities include writing, dressing, cooking, using the bathroom – both bathing/showering and toileting, and other aspects of self-care.

Occupational therapists can also help patients by providing them with information on modifications that can be made to tasks and the built environment, and they can also provide information on appropriate adaptive aids, including shower chairs, reachers, and other helpful tools and devices.  They can also refer you to community resources and services, should you need them.

It does not matter which stage of disease you are at for you to see an occupational therapist.  Studies have shown that occupational therapy can have a positive effect on the functional abilities of patients with rheumatoid arthritis (Steultjens, et al., 2004).  Therefore, earlier is better in terms of getting help with tasks of everyday living, but you can see someone at any point in time.  You also do not have to see an occupational therapist continuously.  If you come up with a plan that works, you might not need to see someone again unless you end up with additional physical limitations that you want to work on.

In order to receive occupational therapy, most people will need a prescription from their doctor and may require pre-approval from their insurance company.  The American College of Rheumatology defines Occupational Therapy Competencies in Rheumatology, for those who want to work specifically with patients with rheumatologic conditions. Once you have found an occupational therapist, you can see whether or not your occupational therapist is certified by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy.


Steultjens, E.M., J. Dekker, L.M. Bouter, D. van Schaardenburg, M.A. van Kuyk, and C.H. van den Ende. “Occupational therapy for rheumatoid arthritis.” Cochrane Database Systems Rev. 1.

See more helpful articles:

My Top 10 RA Assistive Devices

10 Ways to Make Daily Life Easier with Arthritis

Exercise for All Levels of RA