April 12, 2023

Recognizing Our Expert Occupational Therapists

April is National Occupational Therapy Month, and we could not be prouder to recognize our amazing occupational therapists (who are also certified hand therapists!) – Larry Hawkins and Danielle Wills! We asked them all there is to know about occupational therapy, which we summarized below. Learn more about them, what it’s like to be an OT and how they help patients get back to doing what they love!

What is the role of an occupational therapist?

An occupational therapist helps patients regain function following illness or injury. Contrary to what many may think, an occupational therapist views a patient’s “occupation” as not only their job, but all activities that they engage in day-to-day, which could include bathing, dressing, eating, driving, work and more.

Why would someone need to see an occupational therapist?

There are many different reasons why a patient may suffer from loss of function and needs occupational therapy, including stroke, head injury, fractures, overuse and the natural aging process. At Central Indiana Orthopedics, our occupational therapists are focused on treating orthopedic problems of the hand, wrist and elbow. They treat conditions caused by trauma such as fractures, ligament injuries and tendon lacerations, and conditions that develop over time such as arthritis, tendonitis and nerve compression syndromes like carpal tunnel syndrome.

How does an occupational therapist help patients restore function?

Occupational therapists employ a variety of treatment techniques to help patients regain function depending on their specific needs. They commonly work on flexibility exercises to regain movement lost during injury, fabricate custom splints to support and rest injured structures (muscles, joints and tendons) and help patients modify tools and activities to avoid problems caused by overuse.

In addition, our occupational therapists use mock-up environments to mimic activities a patient may do in their everyday life. For example, it’s become common for many to use a computer several hours a day, which unfortunately, has contributed to overuse problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome or tennis elbow. It’s common practice for occupational therapists to analyze an individual’s work environment and make recommendations to reduce overuse or “cumulative trauma,” which may include adjusting the actual work station or discussing techniques like stretching to reduce pain.

What’s the difference between a certified hand therapist and a traditional occupational therapist?

A certified hand therapist (CHT) is an occupational or physical therapist who has received specialized training to treat orthopedic problems of the hand and arm. A traditional occupational therapist might use specific tasks such as dressing, bathing or eating to regain function following a stroke, spinal cord injury or similar. The occupational therapists at CIO are also certified hand therapists, and therefore tend to employ stretching, splinting, strengthening and patient education to help patients overcome functional limitations brought about by orthopedic problems.

What’s the difference between occupational therapy and physical therapy?

In a general sense, a physical therapist helps patients regain movement, whereas an occupational therapist helps patients regain function. For example, a physical therapist may help a stroke patient walk to the kitchen stove, while an occupational therapist may help a patient prepare a meal once they get there. At Central Indiana Orthopedics, our occupational therapists treat the hand, wrist and elbow, while our physical therapists treat the rest of the body.

What sets CIO occupational therapy apart from others?

Effective treatment of an orthopedic problem is achieved by excellent communication between the physician and therapy team (and patient of course!). The therapists and doctors of Central Indiana Orthopedics work side by side (in the same building) to develop a comprehensive and specialized treatment plan to address the needs of each individual patient.

How can someone schedule an appointment for occupational therapy?

If someone is already in a physician’s care, the physician may send a referral to physical therapy.

However, individuals who feel they need occupational therapy may also seek care on their own and schedule an evaluation at Central Indiana Orthopedics Physical Therapy without a physician’s referral – they don’t even need to be a CIO patient to request care! Regardless, we recommend they check with their insurance to confirm coverage. Also, it’s possible that the evaluating therapist may recommend the patient see a physician if diagnostic testing, such as x-ray or MRI, is needed.

If you, or someone you know, need occupational (or physical) therapy or would like to learn more, visit ciocenter.com/services/physical-therapy/ or call 800-622-6575.

Meet our Occupational Therapists

Larry Hawkins, OTR, CHT

Originally from Indianapolis, Indiana, Larry attended Indiana University for his Bachelors in Occupational Therapy. He’s been an Occupational Therapist for 28 years and a Certified Hand Therapist for 10 years. Larry says he enjoys being an Occupational Therapist, because he gets to help patients return to their day-to-day activities and feels that his work really makes a difference in their lives.


Danielle Wills, OTR, CHT

Originally from Danville, Indiana, Danielle attended Hanover College in Hanover, Indiana, for her undergrad and Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia, for her Masters in Occupational Therapy. Danielle loves meeting and building new relationships with patients, helping them establish goals and educating them on how to meet those goals and return to their daily routines and activities. Danielle says it’s a wonderful feeling to know that she’s able to make a positive and meaningful impact on someone’s life after an injury or procedure.