Occupational Therapy For Ankylosing Spondylitis

Have you ever felt overwhelmed with how ankylosing spondylitis has affected your daily life, from trouble getting comfortable while driving to difficulty continuing meaningful hobbies due to pain or fatigue? Occupational therapy (OT) is a licensed healthcare field devoted entirely to helping people participate in everyday life.

For occupational therapy practitioners (OTs), “occupations” are the meaningful activities that occupy your time and your life on a daily basis. Experts recommend that occupational therapists be among the skilled health professionals to deliver patient education in: self-management strategies such as hand exercises, joint protection and activity regulation.

How occupational therapists help people with AS

Occupational Therapy practitioners (OTs) are skilled health professionals. They are experts analyzing the fit between a person, their environment, and the task they want or need to complete. They are like daily life detectives who are experts at assessing the intersection between what’s going on inside your body, what you actually need to be able to do in your daily life, and which environmental barriers might be getting in the way.

OTs are sometimes confused with physical therapists, or physiotherapists. While there is some overlap between the professions when it comes to therapeutic exercise and strengthening, a key difference is that occupational therapists have in-depth training in how to treat cognitive and mental health challenges. For example, they can provide interventions to help people with AS cope with the anxiety and/or depression that can come along with this diagnosis, and help patients overcome or cope with fatigue.

The occupational therapy process

In the United States, occupational therapy ordered by a physician is typically covered by medical insurance, though there may be co-payments for each visit. After being referred to OT, you’ll go through these steps:

  • An individualized evaluation or assessment, during which you and the occupational therapist will determine your treatment goals.
  • Interventions to improve your ability to perform daily activities reach your goals.
  • Ongoing evaluation to see if/how the goals are being met and make changes as needed.
  • You are discharged, or "graduate" from OT once goals are met.

Examples of occupational therapy interventions for AS

  • Skilled advice for engagement in “activities of daily living” including sleep, work, leisure interests, social participation and sexual activity.
  • Training of joint protection and adaptations for daily living.
  • Fatigue management training.
  • Stress management and coping strategies for living with chronic pain. (Citation 3)
  • Re-engagement in meaningful life activities: for example, helping someone who loves riding motorcycles continue to ride comfortably.

Research shows occupational therapy is associated with better patient-reported outcomes in ankylosing spondylitis including pain, function, and overall disability, even when a patient is taking biologics to control disease progression.

Occupational therapists often work as part of a rehabilitation or pain management team along with doctors, physical therapists, nurses, and other care providers. You can find occupational therapists at medical centers, outpatient standalone clinics or private practices.

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