There is a lot of overlap between physical and occupational therapists. However, some key differences set them apart. Both types of therapy can be beneficial in treating various conditions, but they have unique areas of focus. The critical distinctions between physical and occupational therapy are due to how each profession approaches rehabilitation.
Physical therapists typically work with people who have experienced an injury or are dealing with a chronic condition. They use exercises and other treatments to help their patients regain strength, mobility, and function.
Physical therapy can treat conditions such as arthritis, back pain, cerebral palsy, and multiple sclerosis. They can also help people recover from surgery or injuries.
Physical therapists may use a variety of treatments, including exercises, massage, heat and cold therapy, and electrical stimulation.
Occupational therapists work with people who are having difficulty performing everyday activities. They help patients adapt to any physical limitations and regain independence.
Some common conditions that occupational therapy can help with include carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic pain, dementia, and stroke.
Occupational therapists use a variety of treatments, including task-oriented training, cognitive rehabilitation, and sensory integration.
Both physical and occupational therapy can be very effective in helping patients regain function and independence. However, it is important to understand the key differences between the two professions to choose the right type of therapy for each individual.
So what sets these two professions apart?
- The main difference is that physical therapists focus on restoring movement and function, while occupational therapists emphasize helping patients adapt to any limitations they may have. Physical therapy is more about getting people back to their previous level of functioning, while occupational therapy helps patients manage life with any limitations they may have.
- Physical therapists typically work with people who have experienced an injury or are dealing with a chronic condition. In contrast, occupational therapists work with patients who have difficulty performing everyday activities.
- Physical therapy treatments typically involve exercises and other therapies. These include electrical stimulation, ultrasound, stretching, hands-on manipulation, and massage. In contrast, occupational therapy may include tasks such as teaching patients how to use a compensatory technique or modify their environment. Other things that may be part of occupational therapy treatments include teaching patients how to manage stress, showing them exercises they can perform to reduce pain and increase flexibility, and evaluating their home, workplace, or school to identify ways to make their daily tasks much easier and faster.
- Physical therapists typically work in hospitals or clinics, while occupational therapists may work in various settings such as schools, nursing homes, and private practices.
- Physical therapists typically have a background in anatomy and physiology, while occupational therapists typically have a psychology and human development background.
- Physical therapy is a regulated profession, while occupational therapy is not. Physical therapists must meet specific educational and licensing requirements, while occupational therapists are not held to the same standards. For example, in the United States, physical therapists should obtain a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree, which usually takes three years to earn.
- Physical therapy is an excellent option for people looking to regain strength, mobility, and function. Occupational therapy can be beneficial for people looking to manage life with any limitations they may have.
- Physical and occupational therapy methods can be combined for an even more effective rehabilitation program. For example, if a patient has difficulty with movement, an occupational therapist might work on improving their function while a physical therapist helps them regain strength.
- Tools used in physical and occupational therapy can be different. Physical therapists may use weights, resistance bands, and balance boards to help their patients improve movement and function. Occupational therapists may use tools like activity logs, cognitive aids, and splints to help their patients regain independence.
- Physical and occupational therapists can also be different in terms of their specializations. Physical therapists can become specialists in several areas, such as geriatrics, orthopedics, oncology, neurology, pediatrics, clinical electrophysiology, and women’s health. On the other hand, occupational therapists can specialize in areas such as driving and community mobility, school systems, eating, feeding, and swallowing, and environmental modification.
What Does This Mean For You?
If you are dealing with an injury or chronic condition, physical therapy may be the right choice. Physical therapy focuses on restoring movement and function. If you need a physical therapist for your condition, find an experienced and reliable one.
You can seek recommendations from family and friends or conduct an online search to get a list of prospects. Many online clinics offer physical therapy and related services to patients with an injury or chronic condition. Check their websites for information, such as the specific services they offer, their hours, location, and your expectations during the therapy session. This way, you can find the right physical therapy provider.
On the other hand, if you have difficulty performing everyday activities, then occupational therapy may be a better option. Occupational therapy emphasizes helping patients adapt to any limitations they may have.
Both professions offer unique benefits and can help you regain your mobility and independence. You can always talk to your doctor to help determine which therapies would be right for you when considering a physical vs. occupational therapist for your needs.
Physical therapy and occupational therapy are great options for rehabilitating people who have experienced an injury or are dealing with a chronic condition. While there is some overlap between the two professions, they have unique areas of focus that set them apart. Consider your health goals when selecting therapy and what it is you are trying to accomplish.