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Occupational Therapy: What’s in a name?

Mickie ToutantYou may think “occupational therapy” is related to your job or career. After all, we think of “work” when we hear the word “occupation.” However, occupational therapy far exceeds the realm of your job; it is about learning “skills for the job of living.” Think of your life as your occupation.

Consider all the activities you do from the time you wake up until you go to sleep: dressing, grooming, eating, cooking, thinking, planning, organizing, driving, working, going to school, parenting and exercising. The list goes on and on. All these activities require multiple skills and actions originating from your body and mind. An injury or medical condition can disrupt your daily routine, and life can become challenging, confusing, painful and difficult.

For example, a healthy female college student falls while skiing, breaking her wrist. It is a complicated fracture that requires surgery and prolonged casting. She experiences significant pain, swelling and is unable to use her dominant hand; her fingers become stiff and painful because of limited use. She lives by herself in a dorm, but now needs help dressing, doing her hair and taking notes in class. Most tasks are slow and difficult to complete; she has difficulty concentrating because her sleep is interrupted and pain medications make her drowsy. Because of this injury, she is unable to work at her part-time job as a waitress.

In this instance, an occupational therapist would begin therapy by managing the swelling, which helps reduce pain, and get the fingers moving to prevent them from getting stiffer. The therapist would give the patient tips on how to complete tasks one-handed, instructions regarding sleep positions to increase comfort and tips on how to manage daily fatigue by taking frequent breaks prior to becoming overly fatigued. The therapist would also encourage the patient to take short naps in order to get quality, undisrupted sleep. The therapist would recommend continued daily exercise, along with completing specialized hand exercises, and offer encouragement to counter the patient’s loss of independence, overall frustration and uncomfortable feelings about asking others for help. The therapist would also help with contacting the patient’s employer regarding the patient’s return to work and any limitations she might experience. At each therapy visit, the therapist and patient would work together to solve problems in order to achieve maximize function and independence.

In these ways, occupational therapy addresses all activities − simple and complex − that make up our lives. An occupational therapist helps patients learn new skills and adapt to the job of living. FBN

EntireCare Experts

EntireCare Rehab & Sports Medicine therapists and specialists have the education and hands-on experience required to provide comprehensive, individualized treatment plans and therapies. In addition to a bachelor’s degree, many of our therapists also have advanced training and experience, including master’s and doctoral degrees, as well as additional certifications in one or more areas of expertise.

Each specific type of therapy − occupational, physical, hand, speech, pediatrics − is considered a specialty, and plays an important role in the rehabilitation process. The EntireCare team functions as a cohesive unit, where all members share information and knowledge. The ultimate goal is the patient’s improvement and return to the highest possible functioning level.

Choosing EntireCare means patients also have access to a myriad of additional services, such as advanced facilities, technology and equipment.  

To make an appointment at one of our Flagstaff locations, call 928-773-2125.

  • Flagstaff Medical Center: 1215 N. Beaver St. The outpatient therapy center includes a large exercise gym; private rooms for hand, wound, electric stimulation and other treatments; above-ground therapeutic pool; group exercise classes and more.
  • East Flagstaff: 7810 N. Hwy. 89, Suite 280 (in the Elden Ridge Business Centre next to Subway). Full-time physical therapists provide comprehensive treatment options in a state-of-the-art facility. The clinic has both private treatment rooms and a gym-like area for patients to work one-on-one with therapists.

Mickie Toutant is an occupational therapist with Northern Arizona Healthcare’s EntireCare Rehab & Sports Medicine department. She earned a bachelor’s from St. Catherine University, St. Paul, Minnesota in 1979. Her primary areas of clinical expertise include neurology, hand therapy and working with cancer survivors. She is located at Flagstaff Medical Center.

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