Occupational Therapy for Everyday Life with Arthritis

Arthritis can stand in the way of life – work, school, sleep, daily tasks like cooking and cleaning and so much more.

One in five people who live with rheumatoid arthritis leave the workforce within five years of receiving a diagnosis. At least 70 per cent of individuals with arthritis experience insomnia. In general, people living with arthritis are also more likely to have anxiety and depression.

Pain and fatigue can be extremely frustrating. It feels like an impossible wall to climb – one that stands between quality of life pre-and post-diagnosis. However, in addition to rheumatologists and family doctors, other health professionals can provide a roadmap to navigate around arthritis challenges.  

Occupational therapists (OTs), for example, are a vital part of a person’s care team. They can provide guidance and options on performing daily activities and managing symptoms like pain, fatigue and more.

We’ve put together a list of tips and advice that members of our Arthritis Patient Advisory Board have received from OTs throughout their years of living with different types of arthritis.

A Source of Support

  • OTs provide much more than work advice; they help people get back to, or continue, their activities – from work to social engagements, self-care and more.
  • One member said the encouragement and support she received from her OT helped her remain optimistic and stay active while living with rheumatoid arthritis. Thanks to this support, she realized how individual behaviours impact her overall health.
  • It is incredibly important for people who are newly diagnosed with arthritis – especially inflammatory types like rheumatoid arthritis – to see an OT. The lack of knowledge surrounding occupational therapy causes many to miss the opportunity to receive real, customized support for the challenges they experience every day.
Megan Thomas

Navigating Daily Life


  • OTs can help with the little things. The best piece of advice one member received from an OT was to put items that are used frequently at arm’s length to reduce joint pain and overuse.
  •  OTs can help with the 4 P’s: prioritizing, pacing, planning and positioning. When living with arthritis, it is extremely important to prioritize the activities and tasks that matter most to you. It’s also necessary to pace yourself – break down activities that make symptoms like pain and fatigue worse into smaller tasks and take breaks when necessary. Plan each day and schedule in rest time. Make sure to rotate heavy and light tasks to avoid overexerting yourself. Consider your body’s positioning when doing tasks throughout the day to minimize aggravating sore joints. This can include using adaptive equipment to make tasks less strenuous.
  • Do you find it hard to understand terminology used by members of your medical team? OTs are often praised for being the easiest health professionals to understand. So don’t be intimidated!
  • What you wear matters when you have arthritis. One member has adopted many OT suggestions in this area – backpacks, cross-body purses, lightweight coats, minimal buttons and zips, as well as magnetic necklace clasps.

Assistive Devices


When living with arthritis, assistive devices can be very helpful. However, choosing the right ones can feel overwhelming. Which ones are necessary? How are they used? From electric can and jar openers to extended tap turners, raised toilet seats and more, OTs can be excellent resources when it comes to choosing the right assistive devices.

  • One member said custom splints from OTs helped her reduce pain and maintain hand function. In her kitchen, she now uses the following devices and tools to save her joints: right-angled knives, two-handled pots, and can and jar openers. She also gave away her cast iron cookware


Work with Arthritis

  • People spend a lot of time at work. OTs can assess a person’s workspace and suggest changes to make it more ergonomic. One member had an OT assess her office and make suggestions to help with neck, hand and shoulder pain.

Surgery Recovery


  • Worried about getting around after surgery? OTs can help with that too! They can assess home environments for safety concerns and make suggestions for getting around post-surgery. This assessment can play a crucial role in the healing process.

Arthritis is a life-changing disease. It is important to work with a rheumatologist to find the right course of treatment. However, many people feel lost when it comes to navigating daily life with chronic illness. Medical professionals like occupational therapists are excellent resources to help people live well with arthritis.


Want to find an occupational therapist in your area?

The Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists offers a useful search tool on its website.

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