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The Role of your Occupational Therapists After a Spinal Cord Injury

by Alicia Lam Taracido

 

Occupational Therapy for Spinal Cord Injury A spinal cord injury is one of the most devastating events that could change your life. A catastrophic event like a spinal cord injury can result in severe neurological, motor, and sensory impairments. Every year, thousands of people suffer from accidents and degenerative diseases which result in either an injury to their spines or a decrease in spinal cord function.

Spinal cord injury is known as one of the most crippling orthopedic injuries. People who have faced this know that the only way to prolong their survival is rehabilitation of their injuries. Rehabilitation is taking on an increasingly important role in today’s medicine. The process involves three primary goals: prevent secondary complications, maximize physical function, and most importantly, reintegrate the individual into the community.

Following a spinal cord injury, rehabilitation is most effective when it is undertaken by a multidisciplinary, team-based approach. The rehabilitation team typically includes physical therapists, occupational therapists, rehabilitation nurses and doctors, psychologists, and in some cases, social workers and case managers. Their involvement is as follows:

  • Occupational therapists normally focus on upper extremity dysfunctions as well as difficulties in daily activities.
  • Physical therapists address lower extremity dysfunctions and issues with mobility.
  • Rehabilitation nurses focus on issues regarding the bladder and bowel systems as well as pressure ulcers.
  • Psychologists address behavioral and emotional concerns of the injured patient and also regarding any potential cognitive impairment.
  • Social workers and case managers serve as the primary interface between the patient, the rehabilitation team, and the payer source.

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What is the role of an occupational therapist after a spinal cord injury?

Occupational therapy practitioners help people who have suffered a spinal cord injury to return to their regular lives. They believe that every individual has the need and right to take part in meaningful activities and productivity.

They are skilled professionals who have the education and knowledge to set collaborative goals and facilitate achievements regarding physical, occupational, psychosocial, and contextual factors that inhibit occupational performance. They are experts who can analyze activities and tasks that can help individuals develop the right skills required to achieve their goals.

Occupational therapy practitioners are integral members of the health care team who guide and help individuals with spinal cord injuries return to their regular lives and their communities and eventually engage in meaningful occupations.

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Here is a detailed description of the role of an occupational therapist in the rehabilitation of individuals with spinal cord injury:

  • They explore, identify, and adopt activities that are unique to each case while modifying environments and activities when and where required.
  • Occupational therapists teach these individuals to perform daily activities such as bathing, feeding, and dressing.
  • They offer adaptation techniques and necessary equipment such as reachers, grab bars, walkers, and so on.
  • One of the largest roles an occupational therapist focuses on is optimizing upper extremity function. They also focus on prevent deformities.
  • They evaluate each case and recommend necessary equipment such as wheelchairs to help optimize function and mobility. They also recommend seating and positioning systems that can improve engagement and productivity.
  • If low- or high-tech assistive technology is required by the injured individual, the occupational therapist provides training and adaptation techniques.
  • Occupational therapists are trained in evaluating environmental and physical barriers at the individual’s home as well as community and recommend any changes if necessary.
  • They explore resources in the community and help identify and develop leisure activities that the injured individual could participate in.
  • Another major role is exploring potential vocational options and ensuring the return of the individual with spinal cord injury to meaningful occupations.
  • They work with educational institutions to make necessary adaptations that help maximize the individual’s exposure and experience.
  • They recommend necessary modifications to vehicles and also conduct driving training and evaluation to ensure passenger and driver safety.
  • Provide resources and training, if necessary, for parenting for individuals with a spinal cord injury.
  • Support the injured individual and help them develop intimate relations, including sexual relations.
  • They empower individuals who are dependent on caregivers and teach them to effectively direct care.
  • They help re-evaluate situations, solve problems, and help individuals learn of new routines as they grow older.
  • They teach energy conservation techniques as well as ways to manage pain.
  • They help promote healthy habits and teach self-management skills that can help prevent complications.

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For someone who has suffered a spinal cord injury, rehabilitation begins from the intensive care unit and stretches through their stay in the hospital and sometimes even after they are discharged. Occupational therapists provide continued services for these individuals, helping them recover, heal, and adjust to their injury. They specialize in helping individuals explore and adopt techniques that can make their lives easier and finally engage in worthwhile occupations.

Living with a spinal cord injury is a lifelong commitment for most people, and occupational therapists make sure that this journey is as trouble-free and comfortable as possible.

 

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