Occupational Therapy after a Motor Vehicle Crash

Published April 1, 2020 by Samantha N. Goldman MOT, OTR/L

Occupational therapists (OTs) are an important part of the healthcare team after a car accident. Never heard of an OT? Occupational therapists are rehabilitation professionals that help people be independent in their occupations. Occupations are the activities that make up our daily lives. For example, eating, sleeping, dressing, gardening, and reading. Each person has different occupations that are meaningful to them. Depending on the patient, an OT’s role can vary quite drastically.

Motor vehicle crashes can have many outcomes. Occupational therapists are present to assist throughout the recovery process, no matter what stage. Although interventions can differ depending on the setting, many of the below examples are pertinent to all settings.

In the Hospital

If an injury is severe, a person may need to be admitted into a hospital. Here, occupational therapy’s main priority is to help the patient return to their baseline status, i.e. how they were before entering the hospital. OTs commonly work with patients who have been diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury, burns, nerve damage, and fractures. One of their main roles in the hospital is to help people complete their basic activities of daily living. These include dressing, bathing, going to the bathroom, getting dressed, brushing teeth, and brushing hair. An OT can help patients complete these while lying down, at the side of the bed, or even in the bedside chair. Occupational therapists may also work on strengthening, screening for pressure sores, teaching movement precautions after surgery, completing range of motion, and advocating for quiet time so the client can get more sleep to heal.

Rehabilitation Hospital

If someone is medically stable, but not quiet ready to go home, they may be referred to a rehabilitation hospital. In this setting, patients attend 3 hours of therapy (a combination of occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy), 5 days a week. The focus is on safety to return home. Therapists expand on skills learned in the hospital and include evaluation of instrumental activities of daily living (IADLS). IADLS include meal preparation, laundry, housework, using a phone, and finances. After a car accident, many of these occupations may be difficult to complete. An OT can help break down or modify the task to make it simpler. The OT may also complete an in-home “assessment”. Suggestions are made to make the home safer, such as taping down rugs or adding hand railings. If a person needs some extra help at home, occupational therapists will practice with their “caregivers” on getting in and out of the car, getting around the house, and bathing.


Outpatient services are for patients who are living at home. In this setting, patients go to an outpatient therapy clinic to receive therapy. Outpatient therapy is very broad. It includes most of the activities from the hospital and rehabilitation hospital. Typically, patients are now stronger and can do these activities at a higher level. Further, occupational therapists can spend more time on stress management or pain management after a car accident. Occupational therapists can work on activities such as progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, visual imagery, and deep breathing to prepare for stressful situations. Some occupational therapists, called a Certified Hand Therapist (CHT), specialize in hand therapy. This therapist focuses on making hand splints, completing wound care, and strengthening the muscles of the hand. Other therapists specialize in driving, and can complete an assessment to make sure the client is safe to return to driving.

Ultimately, our job as an occupational therapist is to improve our client’s quality of life. We focus on decreasing any barriers, in order to improve participation. Unfortunately, occupational therapy is not always prescribed, even if it is beneficial for the client. So it is important to advocate for yourself, and ask your doctor for a referral, if you think an occupational therapist can help you. If you or your loved one is ever is receiving occupational therapy, it is really important for your occupational therapist to know what occupations are important to YOU. There are many areas that OTs can addressed that have not been discussed in this article. For more information on occupational therapy contact or visit us at

Samantha Goldman has been practicing as a pediatric occupational therapist (OT) since 2013. She has extensive experience working with children in a variety of settings, including Nicklaus Children?s Hospital, Pittsburgh Children?s Hospital and Children?s Healthcare of Atlanta. Samantha completed her undergraduate and graduate studies at the University of Florida, and is currently pursuing her Post-Professional Doctorate of Occupational Therapy at Boston University.

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