By Ms. Jasmine Morales (Army Medicine)April 10, 2009
FORT HOOD, Texas - Army occupational therapists originated in 1917 during World War I and were known as reconstruction aides. Today, with more complex responsibilities, they continue to focus on helping patients of all ages with limited abilities to complete daily functions and tasks.
Through various regular therapy treatments, occupational therapists work with individual patients and focus on their needs to achieve and improve quality of life and a sense of independence.
"Helping patients gain independence and returning them to daily functions are the department's main objectives. Our whole purpose of being here is to make sure a Soldier is fit for duty," said Pittsburg, Pa. native, Capt. Barbara Woolston, occupational therapist and assistant chief of the Occupational Therapy Clinic, Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center.
In addition to active duty, the OT Clinic is open to Family members of active-duty service members and retirees under age 65.
"We concentrate on the physical, mental, social, and emotional sources of patient disabilities. You can almost say it's the biomechanical, cognitive, and psychosocial brought together," said Capt. Debra Secrest, a native of Sweetwater, Texas and officer-in-charge of CRDAMC's Warrior Transition Brigade.
Due to the physical demand of daily living, it's important to maintain a healthy lifestyle. The occupational therapy clinic can help with tips on how to avoid physical harm to the body during daily normal activities.
"The majority of cases treated at the occupational therapy clinic are tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. Our mission is to help people get better and feel better about themselves," said Woolston.
"When we see an injury, it's not about fixing the injury; it's about getting patients to function better and helping them become independent as soon as possible. Treatments are aimed to improve and strengthen." Woolston added.
During patient visits, stretching is one technique used to help relieve tension that causes pain. Therapists also prescribe exercises for patient to do at home to continue the healing process and alleviate discomfort.
"A lot of what we do deals with education, and we have a big role in prevention. We treat injuries but we also want to teach our patients how to prevent overuse injuries," said Dayton, Ohio native, 1st Lt. Leah Miller, occupational therapist at CRDAMC.
"The improvements for a Soldier are fast. Unfortunately, we can't fix memory and attention, so teaching Soldiers strategies to help them to pay attention is really what's going to help them improve. Some Soldiers can show improvement within a week," said Kristen Martinez, an OT at the CRDAMC's Traumatic Brain Injury Center.
The focus of OT is return Soldiers to work. Within the WTB, occupational therapists help assess a Soldier's need for life skills training or the work therapy program. OT can provide the resources and assessments for Soldiers transitioning out of the military, thus providing a smooth transition.
"The work therapy program within the WTB helps identify a Soldier's career and educational goals, prescribes therapy that aligns with their skills, goals, and abilities," said Secrest.
"We want to help people to function to the best of their ability in their work and home environment. When they are at home playing with their kids, cooking meals, or whatever it is that they do in everyday life, we want to help them by providing tools they can use to do everyday things," Miller added.
For work, the therapists at Darnall recommend that individuals change their sitting positions in workstations from time to time to avoid straining certain parts of the body and overusing them.
Other CRDMAC programs that incorporate occupational therapy include the Traumatic Brain Injury Center, Warrior Combat Stress Reset Program, and the Warrior Transition Brigade.
Occupational therapists are also known as physician extenders, giving assistance in other areas to help providers. Therapists can prescribe limited medications and issue referrals for patients to be treated at a higher level of care.
"Army occupational therapists are also Soldiers and we can identify with a Soldier's pain," said Secrest.
In identifying and treating the pain, the OT clinic uses various instruments and machines to treat the pain. One of diagnostic methods is an x-ray machine called a Fluoroscan that can provide on-the-spot digital x-ray results.
The uniqueness of this machine is its ability to display the internal hand functions of a patient while still in motion, helping detect broken or fractured bones that might only cause pain during movement. The $55,000 machine also speeds up a patient's visit by eliminating the need to send a patient to the radiology department for an x-ray.
"One of the major benefits of the Fluoroscan is the convenience it provides patients, I can get a digital x-ray here and not have to wait for x-rays to be developed," said Woolston.
To help raise awareness of their important mission during Occupational Therapy Month (April), staff members of the Occupational Therapy Clinic hosted an Open House April 16.
"The goal of our event was to inform providers within CRDAMC and the outlying clinics about the services available in Occupational Therapy clinic that can help their patients," said Woolston.