Comparing Physical & Occupational Therapy

April is Occupational Therapy Month, a perfect opportunity to recognize the thousands of skilled occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants across the country who help patients rehabilitate through the performance of activities required in daily life.

While occupational therapy and physical therapy are both types of rehabilitative care, and both aim to improve overall functioning and quality of life, there are some key differences in the care provided by each specialty:

Physical Therapy Focuses on Movement

Physical therapy is a safe and effective approach to addressing injury, chronic pain or restricted mobility. Physical therapy can help patients rehabilitate and regain bodily function, manage pain, prevent injury, and improve mobility, flexibility and balance without the risks of surgery or the side effects of pharmacological agents. Treatments may include exercises, stretching, hands-on manipulation, massage and electrical stimulation.

Physical therapy is most helpful to patients with serious pain or mobility issues, ranging from athletes and individuals recovering from injuries to individuals with chronic conditions and developmental challenges. Physical therapists work with their patients to develop a plan for rehabilitation and the prevention of further injury.

Occupational Therapy Focuses on Life Goals

Occupational therapists work with patients to improve motor skills and modify daily activities that they are required to or want to do. Therapies may include assistance in relearning activities of daily living (i.e., brushing your teeth or getting dressed), teaching patients to use assistive devices, exercises to improve fine motor skills and assessment of their environment (i.e., school, work and home) to identify helpful adaptations.

Occupational therapy is often used to help individuals with disabilities participate fully in school, work and social situations, help people regain skills after injury and provide support for aging adults who are experiencing physical or cognitive decline.

While physical and occupational therapy provide two different sets of services, both play a key role in the healthcare continuum. Together, therapy services offer effective, lower cost alternatives to invasive procedures and pharmacological treatments – and often in community-based offices that are conveniently located close to home.

As we recognize Occupational Therapy Month this April, let’s thank all the wonderful therapists in our profession who are dedicated to improving the lives of our patients!