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Difference between Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy
You’ve suffered an injury and you need therapy to aid in your recovery. You’re familiar with the terms physical therapy (PT) and occupational therapy (OT) but it’s not clear which one would be most appropriate or which one might help the most.
You’re not alone. To the uninitiated, these therapeutic practices can seem like the same thing. They’re both concerned with rehabilitation and both offer advice on how to maximize the healing process. They also both work with patients to avoid injuries in the future.
But the two actually focus on different aspects of the recovery process and often use different techniques to accomplish their goals. For many patients, there isn’t a choice between PT and OT. They’re complementary practices, and one often follows after the other. So which do you need? You might need both. Let’s look more closely at the differences.
|Occupational Therapy helps to improve mechanical and motor operational skills to perform everyday functions. |
Physical Therapy prevents long-term pain through exercise and treatment.
|Occupational Therapy helps to regain a sense of independence. |
Physical Therapy attempts to help to gain full mobility in damaged areas.
|Occupational Therapy helps to regain happiness and confidence. Works on mental aspects as well. |
Physical Therapy helps to perform everyday activities. Focuses mainly on the physical aspect only.
|Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy often work together during comprehensive Rehabilitation Therapy.|
What Does Physical Therapy Focus On?
Physical therapists are concerned with diagnosing and repairing injuries. Their therapeutic techniques focus on restoring range of motion and balance, rebuilding muscle strength, getting bones back into proper alignment, and helping patients recover gross motor abilities.
Physical therapists most commonly employ stretching, mobility exercises, and massage, and use their intensive understanding of human anatomy to help patients recover from their injuries, and reduce or eliminate associated pain. These interventions are often performed to help patients avoid surgery and the complications that can come with that.
Someone that’s been in a bad car accident, suffering considerable damage to their legs will usually benefit from physical therapy. Both the damage itself, and the muscle loss caused by being off their feet during the recuperation period can cause significant difficulties regaining the proper balance, muscle tone, and strength in order to walk. A physical therapist would work with this patient to recover their joint flexibility and the range of motion needed to reestablish full mobility.
Physical therapists focus strictly on healing the body. Occupational therapists take a more holistic approach.
What Does Occupational Therapy Focus On?
Occupational therapists aren’t trained in the healing modalities used by physical therapists. Their focus is less on repairing the body, and more on helping patients recover their quality of life. They work with patients to regain fine motor control and learn ways to work around their disabilities and limitations so that they can perform daily tasks again.
They look at how a patient’s injuries are affecting their daily life and help them build a plan to regain the functionality that’s important to them.
Occupational therapists don’t restrict their work to people that have suffered an injury. They also regularly help people that are disabled and developmentally or cognitively challenged. Rehabilitation is central to their work, but they also help individuals learn new skills in a way that works for their impairment.
Someone that lost a hand in an accident might turn to an occupational therapist to learn strategies for getting themselves dressed, preparing food, and taking care of other important tasks that are now more difficult for them.
Occupational therapists help patients learn to live with their injuries and disabilities, while physical therapists attempt to heal the injuries as much as possible.
How Do the Two Work Together?
The two disciplines can be employed separately, but many patients benefit from both.
Revisiting our car accident victim from earlier, they would need to undergo intensive physical therapy in order to regain their ability to walk. Once that milestone has been achieved, an occupational therapist might step in to help the patient recover task-based abilities that fall outside of the purview of physical therapy.
Residual joint tightness and muscle damage might make it difficult for this patient to put their pants on in the morning, or to bend over far enough to tie their shoes. An occupational therapist would work with them on strategies and exercises to help them either regain their former ability or learn new ways of accomplishing these tasks.
Physical therapy helps patients recover from their injuries as much as possible, attempting to avoid surgery and dependence on pain medications. Occupational therapists help fill in the gaps in their lives that are left when complete recovery isn’t possible. In this way, the two disciplines combine to give people back as much of a patient’s previous quality of life as possible.
Which type of therapy you need depends on whether you need to heal from an injury, or whether you need to learn to live with that injury or disability. Both are extremely effective, in their specific area of influence.