Written by Kimberly Holland | Published on September 9, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George T. Krucik, MD, MBA on September 9, 2014
Occupational therapy is an important part of multiple sclerosis treatment. Get a sense of what OT is and how it can benefit MS patients in particular.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic autoimmune disease. It attacks the protective coating on your nerves. These attacks damage and break down the coating, also called myelin. As myelin wears away, the communication between your brain and your body may be interrupted. Eventually, MS can damage and destroy the nerves themselves. This damage cannot be reversed.
MS causes a variety of signs and symptoms. The signs you may experience depend on how damaged your nerves are and which nerves are being targeted by the disease. Also, how quickly your symptoms progress depends on the type of MS you have.
Fortunately, in almost all cases, certain treatments can help people with MS live stronger, healthier, and more fulfilling lives as they learn to cope with their diagnosis and their changing bodies.
How Occupational Therapy Helps Patients with Multiple Sclerosis
Occupational therapy (OT) helps patients learn to care for themselves. OT builds and strengthens your fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and mental alertness. OT is a lot like physical therapy. While physical therapy focuses on overall strength, coordination, and skills, OT focuses on helping you cope with changes that affect your day-to-day activities. This includes showering, cooking, working, even participating in your favorite hobbies. Both OT and physical therapy play an important role in MS treatment.
Learn to Conserve Energy
One of the biggest challenges for patients with MS is energy conservation. Exerting yourself or becoming physically exhausted can be disabling, if you have MS. It could cause your MS to flare or enter a period of renewed activity. Exertion might also make a flare worse. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to recover from the damage a flare can cause.
Occupational therapists can help patients with MS learn to utilize their energy and abilities in ways that are beneficial, not detrimental. An occupational therapist can help patients identify tools and techniques that will help them simplify tasks. They can focus on streamlining procedures and reducing the burden on their body.
Making Treatment Plans
Talk with your doctor about seeing an occupational therapist. Anyone with MS can benefit from the discussion.
If You Were Recently Diagnosed
On your first visit, the occupational therapist will conduct an exam in order to establish a baseline for your abilities. This will help him or her know what your limitations are.
Later, the occupational therapist may visit your home and workplace to get a sense of your environment. This allows the therapist to evaluate your specific needs and recommend ways to improve your accessibility and mobility.
Taking all of this into account, you and the therapist will begin working together to establish techniques and strategies for helping you ensure greater independence for as long as possible.
If You Have Advanced MS
Patients who have had the disease for a number of years may have already lost some abilities because of the disease’s progression. It’s still important to see an occupational therapist.
Energy conservation grows more and more important, especially as the disease progresses. An occupational therapist can help you find ways to maintain your independence while also caring for yourself without risking greater damage to your body.