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Health & Wellness 2022: Occupational therapists help return patients to daily routines

Allen Davenport originally was skeptical about occupational therapy, but he said he saw its benefits after just two sessions with occupational therapist Miranda Palmer at Franciscan Health in Olympia Fields.

Editor’s note: This story is the seventh in a series originally published in the Chronicle’s April 1 print edition, part of the annual Health & Wellness supplement sponsored by Franciscan Health.

Davenport, a 53-year-old auto mechanic, underwent triceps tendon reattachment surgery on Nov. 12 to repair an injury suffered in a bicycle accident. He had lost strength in his arm, and he was unable to bend his elbow properly.

Davenport, a mechanic at Goodyear in Tinley Park, said he works on commission and his body needs to be in tip-top shape. His injuries greatly reduced his ability to do his job.

Davenport said when he started occupational therapy with Palmer, he was planning to go for only two sessions.

“I really didn’t believe in therapy because I work out in the gym,” Davenport said. “I was like ‘it’s just some exercises and different stuff.’ I go to the gym. I know how to work out. I can do this. I don’t need nobody’s help.”

After two sessions, Davenport said he realized there were many benefits to occupational therapy, which is designed to help people recover their upper body functioning after surgery or injuries.
Davenport said he continued to go to hour-long occupational therapy sessions three days a week from December to March. The therapy sessions included electronic stimulation, various tricep exercises, grip strengthening routines and other therapy, Davenport said.

“Miranda was very knowledgeable. […] I knew she knew what she was talking about,” Davenport said. “Over time, I was glad to go. I was looking forward to going because I knew it was getting me to where I needed to be.”

Davenport was confident he was ready to return to work in mid-March.

Palmer, of Homewood, has been on the Franciscan Health staff for about 10 years and has helped countless patients. She said occupational therapy is just like physical therapy, except that physical therapy is treating the lower body while occupational therapy is treating the upper body. It often focuses on specific areas, such as shoulders, elbows, wrists or fingers, that suffered an injury limiting the patient from performing their daily activities.

Occupational therapy begins with an evaluation that includes examining the amount of swelling, range of motion and pain levels, Palmer said. She then establishes a therapy plan, including exercises and frequency. Treatment includes both at-home therapy and sessions with Palmer at Franciscan Health.

In her profession, Palmer said the word “occupational” doesn’t just refer to someone’s job. It means “who you are and what you do on a daily basis,” Palmer said. “That can mean dressing yourself. That can mean combing your hair or brushing your teeth. Putting on your clothes. Driving. […] it’s everything you do, that you need to do and you love doing.”

Palmer said she also has a special certification for treating lymphedema.

According to the Mayo Clinic, “lymphedema refers to tissue swelling caused by an accumulation of protein-rich fluid that’s usually drained through the body’s lymphatic system. It most commonly affects the arms or legs, but can also occur in the chest wall, abdomen, neck and genitals.”

Not all therapists hold this certification. Palmer earned hers after seeing breast cancer patients whose arms were swollen because of lymphedema.

A written referral from a doctor is required for occupational therapy in the outpatient department at Franciscan Health. Most patients come to Palmer after receiving a referral from a Franciscan Health Olympia Fields doctor, but about 20% of them come from referrals by other doctors, she said.

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