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Occupational Therapy Plus Exercise Benefits Osteoarthritis

Taking more active role in their health helps patients stave off decline, study finds

TUESDAY, Sept. 30 (HealthDay News) -- Adding occupational therapy to a structured exercise program increases physical activity for most people who have hip and knee osteoarthritis, say researchers.

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease that leads to the breakdown of the cartilage in joints. In people with osteoarthritis, exercise helps maintain good joint health, manage symptoms and prevent functional decline.

But studies have shown that the benefits of a structured exercise program are short-lived. The beneficial effects usually fade soon after participation in the program ends.

In a study in the October issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism, researchers investigated whether occupational therapy could benefit people with hip and knee osteoarthritis.

The occupational therapy program in this study was designed to educate osteoarthritis patients about joint protection, proper body mechanisms, activity pacing, and environmental barriers.

The participants of the current study were divided into two groups. The first group participated in a structured exercise program and the occupational therapy program. The second group participated in the same exercise program, but received health education in place of the occupational therapy.

Only the group that engaged in occupational therapy increased the intensity of physical activity at the end of the study.

"Occupational therapy is really the missing link in promoting wellness of people with hip and knee osteoarthritis," study author Susan L. Murphy, an assistant professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Michigan Medical School and Research Health Science Specialist at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, said in a university news release.

Murphy points out that more research is necessary to study the effects of occupational therapy in larger groups of people with osteoarthritis and to determine the long-term effects of the therapy.

But Murphy says that people with osteoarthritis should strive to expand their daily physical activity and improve their overall health behaviors.

"People with osteoarthritis tend to know more about surgical options, and less about how they can take an active role in promoting their own health and well-being," she said. "People with osteoarthritis need to be their own agents of change. They can do so much to manage symptoms and stave off functional decline caused by osteoarthritis just by being physically active. The bottom line is to find out ways to help people create and maintain these healthy habits."

More information

The American Occupational Therapy Association has more about occupational therapy and arthritis.

-- Krisha McCoy

SOURCE: University of Michigan Health System, news release, Sept. 29, 2008

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