FAQ: What Is The Difference Between Physical Therapy (PT) And Occupational Therapy (OT)?

Physical therapy and occupational therapy are two types of rehabilitative care that have the same main goal in mind: improve (or prevent the worsening of) a condition or quality of life due to injury, illness or surgery.

Physical therapy (PT) focuses on improving movement, mobility and function. Typically, a physical therapist will use a variety of stretching techniques, exercises and other physical activities during the rehabilitative process.

Physical therapists treat specific body parts and movements. Think of them as a mechanic for the human body; when treating a patient with lower back pain, physical therapists will assess the area, take measurements and do functional testing. A good physical therapist will also take a look at surrounding areas as well.

Although the pain may be centrally located in the lower back, often times there are several factors that are contributing to the pain or condition. For instance, the patient with lower back pain may have significantly flat feet, causing overpronation of the ankles, leading to misalignment in the knees which results in residual pain in the lower back. Physical therapists will discover this chain of causality through their evaluation and develop an individualized Plan Of Care to address the root cause of the patient’s condition.

Occupational therapy (OT) focuses on improving a person’s ability to perform daily tasks. Typically, an occupational therapist will focus on improving gross and fine motor skills, as well as making home, work and school environments optimal for day-to-day activities.

Occupational therapists treat a person as a whole unit, aiming to help people fully engage in daily living. Typically, occupational therapists help promote productivity and independence while aiming to maximize a patient’s ability to perform day-to-day tasks safely and effectively.

Occupational therapists often treat patients recovering from an injury or who have a cognitive or developmental disability which affects their motor skills. They also help educate teachers and caregivers on ways to assist those in OT when they encounter various scenarios. For instance, an occupational therapist may help a patient who suffered a stroke relearn how to eat using a fork or spoon. They may also teach the spouse ways they can make daily living easier, such as using food containers with easy twist-off lids so the patient can be independent at meal time.

Physical therapy and occupational therapy have similarities as well. Some of these similarities include:

  • Overall Focus. Both PT and OT focus on improving function and quality of life. They also provide knowledge to help maintain good health.
  • Medical Conditions. There are a considerable amount of medical conditions which may require or recommend both therapies.
  • Care. The type of hands-on care and tasks performed to help improve daily activities may overlap between the two therapies.
  • Goals. Physical therapists and occupational therapists both set various goals to achieve and reassess progress along the way.

Often times physical therapists and occupational therapists will collaborate with one another as part of a rehabilitative team. This rehabilitative team can also consist of doctors, nurses, social workers, speech therapists, recreational therapists and music therapists. Each member of the team specializes in a certain aspect of the rehabilitation process.

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Jaime Curl

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