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April is Occupational Therapy Month: Managing your Arthritis and Chronic Disease

Updated: Feb 1

According to the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) an estimated 1 in 5 adults (46 million) and 1 in 250 children (294,000) are diagnosed annually with arthritis in the United States. A study by the CDC in 2014 showed that seventy five percent of health care dollars in the United States go to treating chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and obesity which are the leading causes of death and disability. More than 133 million Americans have one or more chronic conditions. Occupational therapists can play a role in helping all these individuals better manage their inflammatory and non-inflammatory conditions and chronic diseases and aid in enhancing the overall health and wellness of the population.

Occupational therapists are health care professionals who are committed to empowering individuals to live life to its fullest. An occupational therapist looks at the individual’s capabilities and environment and utilize their knowledge and skills to create modifications so they can do the things they want and need to do. Through their understanding of anatomy, pathology, and physical and emotional demands, they are able to develop an effective plan to reach the patient’s goals.

Revised by the American Occupational Therapy Association. Copyright © 2015 by the American Occupational Therapy Association. This material may be copied and distributed for personal or educational uses without written consent. For all other uses, contact

How Does Occupational Therapy Benefit Persons with Chronic Diseases?

They focus on enabling individuals to participate in productive and meaningful activities of daily life through collaborating with clients and their caregivers during the evaluation and intervention process. This approach is particularly relevant to individuals who need to manage a chronic disease. Depending on the nature and course of the specific condition(s), the occupational therapy goals for clients with chronic health conditions may include but are not limited to the following:

  • Addressing performance deficits in daily self-care (ADLs) and home management tasks (instrumental ADLs), resulting from specific chronic conditions, to sustain or improve current status in these areas.

  • Teaching strategies to incorporate energy conservation and activity modification techniques into daily activities to cope with physical demands and reduce the fatigue associated with many chronic conditions.

  • Individualizing adaptations to effectively perform health management tasks (e.g., ensuring that someone with hand weakness is able to manage daily insulin shots for diabetes).

  • Teaching and incorporating health management tasks into existing habits so they become part of the daily routine (e.g., setting up a schedule and reminder system to take medications).

  • Developing coping strategies, behaviors, habits, routines, and lifestyle adaptations to support physical and psychosocial health and well-being.

Developed by Lenore Frost, PhD, OTR/L, CHT, and Fran Harmeyer, OTR/L, for the American Occupational Therapy Association. Copyright © 2011 by the American Occupational Therapy Association. This material may be copied and distributed for personal or educational uses without written consent. For all other uses, contact

How Does Occupational Therapy Benefit Persons with Arthritis?

The occupational therapy process begins with an evaluation to determine what the client wants and needs to do, and how these activities are being affected by arthritis. It includes a thorough analysis of the client’s performance abilities in order to establish an intervention plan. The evaluation may include assessment of joint range of motion, muscle strength, pain and sensation, and activity endurance. An occupational therapist evaluates a client’s need for orthotics/splints, adaptive equipment, and home and work environmental modifications. If a client undergoes surgery, appropriate postsurgical protocols are incorporated into the evaluation process and intervention planning.

Intervention strategies may include:

  • Physical agent modalities (e.g., heat, cold) to assist with pain management, enhancing the client’s ability to perform daily tasks

  • Techniques to manage or control edema and inflammation, including limb elevation, compression garments, exercise, and splinting

  • Therapeutic activities and exercises to promote gross and fine motor control, range of motion, endurance, and strength, thereby improving functional abilities with daily tasks such as self-care, home management, and work and leisure activities

  • Provision of custom or prefabricated orthotic devices to assist with controlling pain, maintaining functional positions of the hand, and enhancing function

  • Training in the use of joint protection and energy conservation techniques, including the use of adaptive and assistive devices and modified daily routines to ensure adequate rest and to avoid overuse

  • Ergonomic assessment and activity modifications in home, work, and school settings

These approaches educate clients to plan, simplify, and pace tasks as a way of protecting joints; reducing strain, fatigue, and pain; and avoiding joint and tissue overuse while participating in activities. Modification and adaptability go hand in hand with energy conservation and joint protection. Easy-grip handles, adjustable shelves, grab bars, a raised toilet seat, a chair with arms, and removal of clutter are examples of adaptive equipment and approaches that can be used to positively influence a client’s independence in the environment. These combined strategies address clients’ functional needs and maintain or increase their participation in home, work, leisure, and community activities by accommodating for decreased joint motion, strength, and endurance.

Contact Memorial Hospital's Therapy & Sports Rehab Center today to schedule your evaluation and start living a fuller life. 618-826-4581-4588


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