Physical Therapy versus Occupational Therapy: What’s the Difference?

Physical Therapy (PT) and Occupational Therapy (OT) are very similar professions. PTs and OTs often work together to create an individualized treatment program. However, they approach each patient differently. A PT focuses on the muscles, joints, bones, and connective tissues of the entire body. An OT concentrates on the hand and upper extremities.

Let’s take a deeper look at the similarities and differences between OT & PT!

What do occupational therapists do?

Occupational therapists use a variety of approaches to help clients improve their health and function. They work with patients to promote wellness, prevent injury and illness, and rehabilitate injuries and illnesses.

The field of occupational therapy is broad, but it generally involves working with individuals to address issues such as physical impairments, emotional distress, learning challenges, and social isolation.

According to the National Board for Certified in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT), occupational therapy uses “a holistic approach to look not just at the reasons a client’s participation in activities has been impaired but also at the client’s roles and environment.”

What do physical therapists do?

A physical therapist works with patients who have suffered an injury or disease that affects their ability to move. Their job is to treat the person’s impairment, rather than the person themselves. Physical therapists work with patients to increase their range of motion, reduce pain, and restore strength and function.

Physical therapists often use exercise, manual manipulation, electrical stimulation, heat/cold application, ultrasound, and modalities such as massage, traction, cryotherapy, electrotherapy, and hydrotherapy. These treatments are used to decrease pain, speed recovery, and strengthen muscles.

PTs are trained to assess and manage the impairments of patients. For example, they might look for muscle imbalances, joint deformities, weakness, or lack of coordination. They may recommend exercises or therapies to correct these problems.

They also evaluate how well a patient recovers and helps them return to normal activity. If a patient needs surgery, a PT may consult with surgeons about what type of procedure is best suited for his or her unique situation.

Similarities between PT and OT

Though PT and occupational therapy (OT) may seem very different, there is some overlap. For example, both PTs and OTs assess patients to determine what type of exercise program will work best for them. And while it might sound like one therapy focuses on movement and the other on function, both types of therapists do include therapeutic exercises. In fact, many people use both therapies together because they complement each other well.

How to choose what’s best for you

A doctor can make a recommendation and help you understand what treatment plans are best for you.

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