Harvard Health Letter

Could occupational therapy enhance your quality of life?

Get your life back by learning new ways to do once-simple activities that are now challenging.

occupational therapy
Image: McIninch/Thinkstock

Occupational therapy (OT) is well known as part of recovery for people who've had a stroke or surgery: it helps them relearn everyday activities and adjust to doing them differently. But OT can also make a difference for people struggling with the physical changes that accompany aging, such as hand arthritis or hip or knee problems that cause pain and problems with mobility. "We teach people how to approach activities differently so they can keep pain under control while doing what they want to do. It's all about maintaining independence," says Allison Pinsince, an occupational therapist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.

How OT works

Your primary care physician or a specialist, such as a bone doctor, can refer you for occupational therapy. A course of OT typically lasts three to four weeks and is usually covered by most insurance plans, including Medicare.

Treatment starts with an evaluation of your personal needs. "We'll find out what's bothering you and what your functional limitations are. Maybe you have hip, knee, or back pain, and it hurts to reach down and tie your shoes," says Pinsince. "We look at how you're doing things now, and adjust the technique so that you can do the same activity without straining."

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