Q&A: Treating Spine and LE Injuries

Question: Is it in the OT scope of practice to treat acute spine and lower extremity injuries and dysfunctions?

Answer: The foundation of a profession’s scope of practice is inclusion in the educational curriculum, a history of application in practice, and language in state licensure laws/regulations that define a legal scope of practice. While occupational therapy programs include anatomy and physiology of the entire body, the focus of specific evaluation and intervention is not on addressing spine and lower extremity dysfunction. This includes range of motion, muscle testing/strengthening, sensory evaluation, gait assessment/training, and manual examination of the lower extremities and spine. The PT curriculum addresses evaluation and treatment for these conditions in depth, and PT clinical fieldwork reinforces knowledge and skills in this area.

However, OTs do address functional deficits related to spinal surgery, and spine and lower extremity conditions from an occupation-based perspective. This includes functional movement required to perform ADL and IADL tasks such as bathing, dressing, and home management, as well as leisure activities that involve the spine and/or lower extremities. Close communication with PT where appropriate will ensure that the client’s needs are met effectively.