How occupational therapy can help chronic pain sufferers


METRO — Millions of people suffer from acute or chronic pain every year, and the effects of that pain extend far and wide. While pain sufferers understandably focus their attention on treating their conditions, it’s important for all people to recognize the nonphysical burdens pain places on people as well.

Estimates vary regarding the overall financial burden of chronic pain on healthcare systems, but numerous studies have suggested the overall costs are in the neighborhood of half a billion dollars every year. A recent report from the Institute of Medicine estimated that pain costs American society as much as $635 billion every year, a figure that includes both the costs associated with treating pain and the money forfeited to lost productivity. The costs of chronic pain are substantial in Canada as well. Though the population of Canada is just 35 million (compared to nearly 320 million in the United States), a 2010 report estimated the costs associated with chronic pain and lost productivity and sick days in Canada to be around $37 billion annually.

Chronic pain can be uncomfortable and costly, but there are ways to manage the effects of chronic pain and lead an active, productive life. Occupational therapy is one way for chronic pain sufferers to combat their conditions and improve their quality of life.

What is occupational therapy?

According to the American Occupational Therapy Association, occupational therapists and their assistants utilize everyday activities to help chronic pain sufferers participate in the things they want to do and need to do, including work.

What can occupational therapists do?

Chronic pain sufferers rely on occupational therapists in various ways. Occupational therapists may identify the cause of their patients’ pain, suggesting alternatives to activities or behaviors that aggravate that pain. Such identification may include evaluations of patients’ homes and work environments.

Occupational therapists also teach methods for decreasing the frequency and duration of painful episodes. This may include adapting environments that tend to trigger pain. For example, if an office environment is identified as the cause of the pain or a primary trigger, occupation therapists can recommend adjustments and equipment to make that environment less conducive to pain. Occupational therapists also teach clients how to use the equipment so their pain decreases while they perform necessary tasks, such as those associated with their jobs.

Many occupational therapists work in conjunction with other healthcare professionals who are treating their clients. This cooperation can help to determine the ideal course of treatment and may help patients hesitant to treat their conditions with medication find other avenues to overcome their chronic pain.

Chronic pain is a potentially formidable foe that affects millions of people across the globe. Chronic pain sufferers can learn more about the role occupational therapists can play in combating their conditions by visiting

R-H Staff

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