Injuries, surgeries and diseases can rob us of many abilities we take for granted. Walking, holding a coffee cup, even speaking can suddenly leave us through a variety of mishaps, illness and age.



This is where the therapist steps in, to help the patient regain those lost abilities in ways that meet the patient’s needs.

Injuries, surgeries and diseases can rob us of many abilities we take for granted. Walking, holding a coffee cup, even speaking can suddenly leave us through a variety of mishaps, illness and age.

This is where the therapist steps in, to help the patient regain those lost abilities in ways that meet the patient’s needs.

Outpatient therapy is a form of therapeutic treatment for people who do not require hospitalization. A number of types of therapies, procedures and post-surgical care are offered on an outpatient basis. At St. Mary’s Medical Center, the primary focus is occupational, physical and speech therapy.

Occupational therapy is somewhat misunderstood by many patients. While it sounds as though it were designed to help those with a specific job, occupational therapy actually defines “occupation” as any meaningful activity in which a person engages. This can take in a variety of activities, and can affect someone at any point in his or her life. In a nutshell, occupational therapy involves upper body parts, damaged through neurological disorders, stroke or fine motor deficits.

Occupational therapy also addresses self-care performance. Problems like shoulder, elbow, hand and wrist dysfunction and fine motor coordination fall into this category.

Physical therapy is a treatment method managing healing, and prevention of further injuries and disabilities, using non-invasive tools to help improve total body function. Physical therapists focus on relieving pain, promoting healing and restoring function and movement. Physical therapy also focuses on ergonomics or body mechanic training, and general wellness. The focus here tends to be the lower extremities, centered on balance, gait and strengthening larger core muscles. Patients recovering from hip and knee replacements also fit into this category.

Speech therapy often involves cognition, memory and difficulties with swallowing. Speech patients tend to be mostly stroke victims, or those recovering from cancer or diseases which can affect speech and memory.

Technicians perform video swallows in radiology with different textures along with barium, to capture the path that food travels, and determine if it’s getting into their lungs. Many times patients who don’t think they have problems can see where their food is going.

St. Mary’s Medical Center is a Vital Stim-certified hospital using the technology that strengthens swallow muscles and making patients aware of chewing muscles.

Outpatient therapy does require more effort in the part of the patient, with the patient organizing transport to therapy sessions and committing to attending sessions on a regularly scheduled basis.

Our biggest challenge is patient participation in their home exercise program. Our goal is to get patients past the safety precautions/restrictions and understand what is safe and not safe during their recovery. It is important that patients are comfortable managing their injured body part or disability. The biggest barriers? Time and motivation. It can be difficult incorporating a home exercise program into your normal routine.

After going back to work, it can be difficult getting therapy sessions scheduled. We always send patients home with information on their exercise program. We ask them to demonstrate these instructions on visits to determine if they need help or exercise modification. Some respond better to handwritten instructions, or larger print for those with sight issues.

Support at home can be difficult, particularly among those who live alone. We continuously review our patients’ home exercise programs and provide opportunities for questions. Support from family and friends is often an important part of a successful outpatient therapy program, which can be grueling in situations where patients require long-term outpatient therapy.

We encourage participation. Patients need to learn to manage their pain away from the clinic and do their home exercise program as prescribed by their therapist.

Patients who complete their program fare much better than those who do not. We communicate with physicians when appropriate to better understand the patients’ needs and get past any difficulties they may have or difficulties that may arise during their care.

Therapy is intensely personal and very client centered. Our goal in outpatient therapy is to make sure that the patient fully understands their condition and empower them to be involved at every level of their recovery.


Chris Brown is an Occupational Therapist serving patients at St. Mary’s Medical Center. She can be reached at 816-655-5700.