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Occupational Therapy Helps Osteoarthritis Patients Lead Active Lives

Occupational Therapy Approach Boosts Physical Activity


Updated April 28, 2009

Regular Exercise Is Part of Better Health

Regular physical activity and exercise is encouraged as part of a healthy lifestyle. If you have osteoarthritis, regular exercise can help preserve your joints by maintaining or improving range of motion and managing osteoarthritis symptoms. However, despite the known benefits, osteoarthritis can make it challenging to stick with regular exercise.

Most osteoarthritis patients would like to be active, but too often something gets in the way -- whether it's pain, fatigue, or actual barriers in people's homes or communities. According to researchers from the University of Michigan Health System, occupational therapy can break down those barriers and promote wellness in people with hip and knee osteoarthritis -- and "activity strategy training" is the key.

What's "Activity Strategy Training"?

Activity strategy training is an occupational therapy approach that identifies specific barriers that keep osteoarthritis patients from participating in regular physical activity and exercise. Once those barriers are identified, finding solutions is the goal. Simply put: The program is designed to find out why you aren't participating in physical activity on a regular basis and what can be done to fix that!

Activity strategy training is a structured rehabilitation program taught by occupational therapists. It focuses on teaching you about:

Activity strategy training can include patient education, group discussions, home visits, demonstrations and practicing techniques that will encourage activity -- for example, walking in your house, walking in your yard, or getting in and out of a car.

Study Confirms Value of Occupational Therapy Program

In a study that compared two programs -- exercise with activity strategy training versus exercise with health education using materials from the Arthritis Foundation -- it was the group that received activity strategy training that increased their level of physical activity by the end of the study.

The study was small, involving 54 older adults at senior housing facilities or a senior center. While larger studies would confirm the results, researchers were encouraged. Most physical activity programs focus only on structured exercise routines. While structured exercise does help decrease pain and physical disability -- the benefits fade once participation in the exercise program ends.

Points to Remember

An occupational therapy program, such as activity strategy training, can help you determine what it is that's keeping you from being more active. Whether it's a physical limitation or an environmental barrier -- overcoming that limitation or barrier should allow you to increase your level of physical activity. An occupational therapist can make assessments and guide you in the direction of finding solutions. If you think you could benefit from such a program, bring it up with your doctor and ask for a referral. Don't forget to check your health insurance so you know how much of it is covered.

READER'S RESPOND: Were you referred to Occupational Therapy?


Occupational therapy gets people with osteoarthritis moving. University of Michigan Health System Newsroom. September 29, 2008.

Home Modifications and Occupational Therapy. American Occupational Therapy Association Fact Sheet. Lisa Fagan and Dory Sabata. Accessed 9/30/2008.

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