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The Difference Between Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy

The Difference Between Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy

If you’re like most people, you may not know the exact difference between occupational therapy and physical therapy. While they are both rehabilitative services that assist patients in regaining function, they go about this process through very different means. Generally speaking, physical therapy is intended to treat the source of a patient’s physical impairment. Occupational therapy, on the other hand, focuses on treating the impairment in action.

Many of our patients use our physical and occupational therapy services, with some patients even using both! Just because you are receiving therapy from one, does not mean you can’t receive therapy from the other. Physical and occupational therapy work hand-in-hand with each other to help the patient achieve their highest rehabilitative potential.

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapists tend to focus on treating the effects of a disability rather than the source. It is their job to help a person learn to optimize their life after an injury or physical impairment. The main focus of treatment for OT is activities of daily living. Anything that a person does on a regular basis can be considering an activity of daily living, such as dressing, cooking, bathing, using the bathroom, or writing. The ultimate goal for occupational therapy is to enable the patient to live an independent and successful life in spite of their disabilities.

In order to achieve this, therapists use treatments that include stretching, therapeutic exercise, hand strengthening, manual dexterity practice, and caregiver training. Generally, they focus on the upper body and focus on the smaller muscles that people need to complete daily activities. An occupational therapist can recommend adaptive equipment that will help people live normally, such as reachers, dressing aids, specialized dishes and utensils, and splints for positioning. Generally, occupational therapy is recommended for people who have sudden mental and physical impairments, developmental disabilities, stroke, arthritis, or injury.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapists take the approach of trying to repair or treat the impairment that is limiting a patient. Their job is to evaluate and diagnose an injury while coming up with a plan to treat the disability. They will actually try to heal the injured tissues and structures while reducing pain and increasing functional ability.

PT focuses on movement and helping a patient become mobile once again. Treatment includes stretching, therapeutic exercise, balance training, functional mobility training, gait training, and caregiver training. Typically, physical therapy focuses on the larger muscle groups that contribute to reaching, standing, and balance. It usually takes more of a focus on the lower body, but can include the arms and the back. Physical therapists can also recommend assistive devices, such as shower chairs, braces, walkers, canes, wheelchairs, and standers. Following a home exercise plan is essential for completing physical therapy rehabilitation. The most common reasons for needing PT are injury, back pain, osteoarthritis, spinal stenosis, Parkinson’s disease, or multiple sclerosis.

Occupational Therapy

Physical Therapy

  • Helps people with activities of daily living
  • Teaches patients how to work around their disabilities
  • Makes recommendations about adaptive equipment
  • Goal is to increase independence
  • Diagnoses and treats problems that restrict movement and cause pain
  • Uses exercise and stretching to ease pain, boost mobility, and increase muscle strength
  • Makes recommendations for assistive equipment
  • Goal is to help heal the disability and increase mobility

Examples

To sum up, let’s look at a few examples of injuries and see how physical therapists and occupational therapists would assist. Imagine a patient who has just had a knee replacement. It is the job of the PT to assign different exercises to improve mobility and ease pain and stiffness. The OT, on the other hand, will help the patient adapt to using a wheelchair and then move on to helping the patient use the stairs with the new knee. Another example is a patient who has muscle weakness and cannot stand for a long time. A PT will work on helping the patient stand and practice balance, while the OT will teach the patient how to perform hygiene tasks without being able to stand the whole time.

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