woman talking to occupational therapist

Five Ways Occupational Therapists Help with AS

Occupational therapy (OT) is sometimes referred to as the “best therapy you’ve never heard of.” Occupational therapists look at the interaction between you, your environment, and your “occupations,” or daily tasks you want or need to complete.

After evaluating all three factors, OTs help you function better in all aspects of daily life, from getting dressed in the morning to getting comfortable while sleeping at night. Curious to learn more? Here are five specific ways an occupational therapist can help you manage ankylosing spondylitis (AS).

1. OTs help with bedroom activities, including sleep & sex

Difficulty sleeping can sometimes feel inevitable when you live with a chronically painful condition, however an occupational therapist can help you improve your sleep patterns through what’s called “sleep hygiene.”

New Zealand occupational therapist Dr. Bronnie Lenox uses this technique in her practice. For example, she helps people time their medications and alter their routines so they get better sleep. She recommends going to sleep at the same time each night, developing a “wind-down” routine, recognizing that it’s normal to take 10-15 minutes to fall asleep, and developing mindfulness tools that allow you to notice your thoughts without applying labels or values to them.1

Additionally, Dr. Lenox uses her training as an occupational therapist to address sexual activity, which in occupational therapy is considered an “ADL - activity of daily living.” This often includes suggesting alternate positions that can maintain intimacy without excess pain. She also uses a holistic view, which addresses the psychosocial aspects of intimacy and sexual activity.1

Learn more about how occupational therapists address sexual activity and sexuality.

2. OTs help you manage AS fatigue

Fatigue can be one of the most frustrating aspects of living with AS and similar conditions. Unfortunately, occupational therapists don’t have a magic wand to make fatigue go away. However, they can provide personalized recommendations to minimize existing fatigue, and prevent future fatigue.

This usually involves you walking the therapist through a day in your life. They then help you learn “energy conservation” strategies or ways to make your limited energy last longer. Two common strategies are activity pacing and scheduling rest breaks.

They can also help you implement workarounds to minimize the impact of fatigue on your daily life. For example, if you are exhausted after a trip to the grocery store, an OT may help you set up home-grocery delivery.

3. OTs help you cope with pain

While OTs are sometimes confused for Physical Therapists (PTs), occupational therapists are trained to directly treat mental health and cognitive challenges, unlike physical therapists.

When it comes to living with a chronically painful condition like AS, OTs can help you develop emotional tools for coping with pain. Two commonly used techniques by OTs are mindfulness-based approaches, and cognitive behavior therapy (also known as CBT). They can also teach relaxation techniques for chronic pain.

4. OTs help modify your environment

Occupational therapists can come into your home and suggest specific home modifications to make your daily routines easier and less painful. For example, they might suggest grab bars in your shower to improve balance, or a shower bench to allow you to rest during a shower to accommodate for fatigue. The American Occupational Therapy Association has more examples of environmental adaptations.

5. OTs help you engage in meaningful activities

Bonnie Klassen, who works with Veterans with AS in the United States, shared that she helps people with AS “find meaning in life and connect with others.”2 She also helps them engage in meaningful activities. For example, she helped a veteran with AS access funding for a trike with head support so he could continue to enjoy bicycling despite his neck pain.

Dr. Lenox also explained she integrates movement into therapy. For example, she helped a client with AS who was previously sedentary learn that he enjoys swimming and walking.

Conclusion: Occupational therapy can help with AS

One occupational therapist working in Veterans Affairs in the United States explained that: “(OTs) take a step back to look at the various barriers, biopsychosocial factors, and functional implications. Our background in learning theory, motivational interviewing, behavior change, and activity analysis all set us apart from other professions.”

As you can see from the examples above, occupational therapy is a broad and holistic profession that is truly dedicated to helping you navigate daily challenges with better ease. Have you ever seen an occupational therapist, and if so, did it help? Let us know in the comments!

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