Mitch Hopkins, occupational therapist at Munson Army Health Center, uses a Digi-Extend to demonstrate one of the ways patients can be assisted to regain functional ability following an injury April 13 at MAHC. Occupational therapists use these instruments, with their resistance bands of different levels, to build hand and forearm strength after carpal tunnel, arthritis, fractures or tendon injuries. Occupational therapists help patients improve motor skills, balance and coordination. Photo by Cynthia Clark/Munson Army Health Center Public Affairs

Cyndi Clark/Munson Army Health Center Public Affairs

The U.S. Army recognizes April as Occupational Therapy Awareness Month. Occupational therapists have been members of the Army Medical Specialist Corps since 1947, helping beneficiaries regain functional ability following an injury.

 “Occupational therapy at Munson Army Health Center is focused mainly on elbow, wrist and hand injuries, whether they be chronic or acute, and (post-operative) services,” said Mitch Hopkins, MAHC occupational therapist.

While often lumped in with physical therapy, occupational therapy is not the same.

“There is one key difference in the two,” Hopkins said. “Occupational therapy focuses on increasing functional ability in day-to-day activities, while physical therapy focuses on movement in a part of the body.”

Occupational therapists also work with children on anything from handwriting issues to developmental delays and any complications as a result of an Autism diagnosis. While MAHC’s occupational therapist doesn’t work with children in the clinic, MAHC’s beneficiaries can discuss options with their primary care manager to be seen off post.

The most important aspect of a successful outcome when it comes to occupational therapy is to address it early. A PCM visit is essential, in which they may put in a referral to be seen.

“If you have any complaint or pain, the sooner the better,” Hopkins said. “The longer the delay, the longer the recovery can potentially be, especially if you don’t know what’s wrong. There may be a soft tissue injury, a torn ligament or a tendon that might first need to be addressed with an MRI or a surgeon. We do see a lot of chronic injuries that have been put off for years.” 

On the first visit to occupational therapy, a patient can expect to have a survey of functional ability performed. At that time, the occupational therapist will assess the injury and determine the scope of care required.

“It is usually my first inclination to see if this person is going to need in-person care, or can they do a home exercise program,” Hopkins said.  “Then we get an idea of the amount of pain they are in, find what’s really truly bothering them to judge exactly how much they’re impaired. The ultimate goal is to re-strengthen the parts of the body that were weak prior to the injury, or that caused it.”

To make an appointment with a PCM to obtain an occupational therapy referral, call the MAHC appointment line at 913-684-6250.

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