April is National Occupational Therapy Month. Did you know occupational therapy has been a profession for more than 100 years? Every April, we celebrate occupational therapists and the contributions they make to patients' lives.

What is occupational therapy?

Occupational therapy helps people of all ages return to the activities that are most important to them after an illness or injury. In essence, our “occupations” are all of the activities that occupy our time.

What does an occupational therapist do? 

An occupational therapist (OT) helps people with injuries or illness return to those activities that provide meaning to their lives. We start with basic activities such as self-care: bathing and dressing, cleaning the house, child care, laundry, and cooking. However, that is only the beginning.

OTs work with people in a variety of roles; students, people in the work force, retirees. Each individual has different needs and interests, and must be treated as an individual with their own unique sets of values and interests.

For example, if a person is a carpenter and loses a finger in a job-related injury, an OT will work with this person on wound care, controlling swelling, range of motion, sensory retraining, and functional strengthening so that he or she may be able to return to work.

Sometimes, adaptive techniques and/or equipment may be needed. OTs can make orthotics for protection during the healing process or to aid in regaining use of the person’s hand. An OT will use tools and activities to closely simulate, or actually complete, the tasks required of the person at work or home.

What can occupational therapy treat?

Our adult outpatient OTs are available to treat people with many different injuries and illnesses including, but not limited to:

  • Upper extremity injuries
  • Burn injuries
  • Work injuries
  • Chronic Pain
  • Neurological illness or injuries such as stroke, concussion, head injuries, Amyotropic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), Multiple Sclerosis and more.  

Occupational therapy for seniors

When working with the aging population, cognitive and physical decline and safety in the home or behind the wheel of a car are often of concern. At Rhode Island Hospital, our OTs work closely with the referring physician and can perform an evaluation to test the skills needed to drive a car or move safely around their home.

The emotional component of occupational therapy

Whenever a person is injured or ill, there is an emotional component involved. An OT is trained to help the patient deal with the struggles associated with the injury or illness, including concerns about being out of work and pain management.

For all of us, the activities that bring joy to our lives is an important part of who we are. OTs help people identify those interests and develop strategies so they can continue to take part in those activities, despite their physical, psychological, cognitive, social or emotional limitations.

Learn more about occupational therapy, or find an occupational therapy facility across Rhode Island on our website.

Jill Levine, OTR/L, CHT

Jill Levine, OTR/L, CHT

Jill Levine OTR/L, CHT, is a senior occupational therapist and certified hand therapist specializing in treating patients with hand and upper extremity injuries. She practices with the Rhode Island Hospital hand and upper extremity therapy service, part of the Lifespan Rehabilitation Services.