Occupational therapy and juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA)

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An occupational therapist can help you function your best at school, work, and play. Occupational therapy can help to reduce your pain. It can help to maximize your strength, endurance and physical function. Occupational therapy can make you more independent in your activities of daily living.

What does an occupational therapist do?

Occupational therapists provide assessment, treatment, and education for people with JIA and other conditions.

Occupational therapists can help to monitor JIA. They can advise you on ways to adapt your activities or the physical environment around you. They do this to help you participate more fully in work, school, and leisure activities. Occupational therapists have special training in:

  • fine motor assessment and exercises to improve your fine motor skills (strengthening, hand-eye coordination, finger dexterity exercises, etc)
  • hand function
  • the design and fabrication of hand splints.

What are some common occupational therapy services?

Assistive devices

When JIA flares up, assistive devices can help you to remain independent in your daily activities. Assistive devices can help with getting dressed, brushing your hair, writing, and eating. Examples of assistive devices include braces and splints. Occupational therapists can recommend assistive devices. They can visit your school or home to see if you need any special equipment to help in your daily routines. They can change your existing equipment as needed.

If you have JIA in your hands, you may have trouble with handwriting. You may notice this especially when writing for long periods of times like during tests or exams. Pencil grips and an angled writing surface may help reduce your wrist pain and fatigue when writing. Other ways around this are to have notes provided to you or to tape record your classes. You can also try using a computer in the classroom to take notes or do assignments. A computer is really helpful at home.



Splints for the hand may be custom made from plastic materials. These are heated and molded to your hand. The splints can help to improve or maintain your range of motion. They can help to reduce contractures. A hand splint also helps to reduce pain, swelling, or stress on the wrist or finger joints.

Splints are also sometimes made for the knee, to reduce flexion contractures. Splints can be used for many other types of joints as well. Custom made splints can be adjusted as your range of motion improves and joint swelling gets better.

Balancing school, work, play and leisure activities

Physical activity can help to reduce your joint stiffness and pain. Physical activity can also help improve your strength and range of motion. You are encouraged to participate in physical education at school. Try out some sports and leisure activities that you find interesting.

If you are experiencing a joint flare, you need to balance your physical activity with rest. When you have joint inflammation, you need to really pace yourself. You may feel more tired in periods of active inflammation. During those times, you may need to adapt your schedule to meet the demands of school, activities and your social life.

If you are considering a part-time job, it is important to think about the physical demands of the job and the time commitment.

Your school and workplace need to be made aware of your diagnosis. They should know about any physical or other limitations that you have in order to accommodate your needs. At school, you may need additional time to write exams, access to a computer if handwriting is difficult, or changes to the gym program. Your therapist or doctor can write a letter to your school to help you get these accommodations if needed. You will learn more tips about supports in school and at work in later sessions.

Tips for achieving balance

  • Exercise regularly. It has physical, social and emotional benefits.
  • Communicate with your school and health-care team. They can help address any physical or other needs you may have.

Ask for advice from your occupational therapist or physiotherapist​. They can help if JIA is keeping you from participating in activities you really want to do.

Last updated: January 31st 2017