Occupational Therapists’ Role in Spinal Cord Injury

April 27, 2016 | 8:00 am | By Pants Up Easy

For those who have sustained one, a spinal cord injury (SCI) is undoubtedly one of the most catastrophic events in their lives. How serious the effects of the accident will be really depends on both the severity and the location of the injury. When the spinal cord is damaged or broken, body functions and/or sensation below the level of the injury will be impaired. So the higher the injury is, the more devastating the effects will be. In most cases, a SCI will result in paralysis of the legs, which is certainly a life-changer in many ways. While there is no “cure” for a spinal cord injury, appropriate changes to the patient’s environment and relevant therapies can help regain the ability to perform daily activities. Occupational therapists play a vital role in enabling spinal cord injury victims to restore function and meaning to their lives.

What is Occupational Therapy?

 Occupational therapy (OT) is typically understood to be the types of therapies that help patients perform meaningful activities in their daily routines. There are numerous challenges to overcome. In addition to the obvious physical concerns, many patients with spinal cord injuries struggle with chronic pain, fatigue, anxiety, depression and even despair. At the center of the philosophy of occupational therapists is the belief that everyone has both the desire and the right to engage in meaningful activities.

 The Role of Occupational Therapists

 Occupational therapists employ a variety of methods, all done with their sights set on the goal of helping patients return to their homes and communities and engage in meaningful occupations (activities). Let’s look at some of the things they do to accomplish this goal.

  • Setting goals for the patient’s return to daily activities like self-care, work, and leisure. This is going to be a unique plan, tailored to the specifics of the individual’s accident as well as their home and work situation.
  • Performing an assessment of the patient’s needs for assistive equipment and devices.
  • Performing an assessment of the individual’s home (and in some cases, workplace), and recommending modifications to the environment, and adaptive equipment where it is relevant.
  • Assisting the patient and their family in navigating through the labyrinth of systems through which they may obtain funding for needed services and equipment.
  • Helping the individual identify recreational and leisure activities in which he or she can participate, and locating community resources to facilitate those activities.
  • Teaching patients who will need the assistance of caregiver to clearly and effectively direct those caregivers.
  • Educating the patient in pain management techniques as well as energy conservation methods.
  • Helping the patient locate peer support groups and advocacy groups.

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