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Getting a Grip at NHP

Lt. Charles Knight, occupational therapist at Naval Hospital Pensacola (NHP), works with a patient to improve fine motor skills in his hand at NHP, April 15. With April is designated as Occupational Therapy Month, occupational therapists enable patients of all ages to live life to the fullest by promoting health, and prevention or coping better with injury, illness, or disability.

Story by Petty Officer 1st Class Brannon Deugan

Naval Hospital Pensacola  

The Occupational and Physical Therapy Department at Naval Hospital Pensacola (NHP) improves patient’s fine motor skills after an injury, an illness or a disability.

Occupational therapy and physical therapy are two specialties that often work side-by-side in patient care. The two are separated at NHP by their focus on body parts with occupational therapy focusing on the upper extremities.  

“I think a lot of times occupational therapy and physical therapy get thrown into the same bucket, but there is a huge difference,” said Lt. Sara Brubaker, occupational and physical therapy department head at NHP. “Specifically [at NHP], the occupational therapist focuses on the shoulder, elbow, hand and wrist.”  

April is Occupational Therapy Month and occupational therapists enable patients of all ages to live life to the fullest by promoting health and maintaining the readiness of the active duty patients.

“Occupational therapy is celebrated annually in the month of April as a remembrance of our early beginnings into practice, our contributions to healthcare and our support of patients,” said Lt. Charles Knight, occupational therapist at Naval Hospital Pensacola.  

Occupational therapy is a science and evidence-based profession that utilizes a holistic approach to help patients increase functional independence in daily life while preventing or minimizing disability through the therapeutic use of everyday activities.

“Occupational therapists are known for their use of occupation as a modality,” said Knight, from Jeffersonville, Indiana. “For example, if a patient is having difficulty putting on a shirt after having shoulder surgery, we would actually do some [specific] exercises and go through the particular activity of daily living the patient is struggling to complete.”

Daily tasks at work or even at home can cause patients with injuries to experience difficulties completing even minor duties, which could potentially risk a service member’s readiness. However, the holistic approach of occupational therapy formulates a plan of action to simulate those fine motor skills needed. According to Knight, the occupational therapy clinic experiences a 95 percent return to duty for their patients, which allows those individuals to be mission ready.

“There are a lot of things that go into occupational therapy,” said Brubaker, from Comer, Georgia. “The [tasks] of daily living that we take for granted, like being able to tie your shoe again. Occupational Therapists are able to identify concerns as well as the best plan of action to correct the issue.”

Occupational therapists address injuries not only from a physical aspect but also on a cognitive level in order to understand if the fine motor skill deficiency is an orthopedic or a neurologic issue.

“We are very good at [talking with] patients,” said Knight. “We look at the three main areas of mental, physical and psychosocial health when someone has sustained an injury to ensure we are treating the patient with the appropriate care required.”

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