What is The Difference Between Occupational & Physical Therapy?

There's often confusion about the difference between occupational therapy and physical therapy.

And it's no wonder. Both professions use rehabilitation to help patients heal and manage their injuries, pains, and other physical issues. 

Not just that, often, the same patient will see both therapists at the same time, in order to achieve the best possible results.

Finally, it’s interesting that both therapy branches came up from the same profession during World War I. It was known as reconstruction aid and these professionals were treating injured soldiers.

It’s clear that the debate about physical therapy vs. occupational therapy is a long-lasting one, so let us help clear some things up. 


Physical Therapy (PT) Definition

Simply told, physical therapy treats the patient's health problem from a biomechanical perspective. Using various techniques, the therapist aims to help the patient increase mobility and lessen the pain. 

The expert creates a specific individual treatment program and progress tracking system that speeds up the patient's recovery.

The primary goal of physical therapy is to get the person back in motion.

And that goal is achieved by using various exercises, massage, stretches, heat or cold therapy, and other healing methods. In addition to that, there's always the added focus on preventing additional injuries or reliance on medications. 

Learn more about the benefits of physical therapy here.

Physical Therapist


Occupational Therapy (OT) Definition

An occupational therapist treats the whole person as opposed to just one specific issue. 

The patient can have various problems and ailments, from minor or larger sport injuries to different developmental and cognitive disabilities. An OT will try to remedy these issues that affect a person's motor skills, behavior, and emotions. 

Occupational therapists also work closely with other healthcare professionals to diagnose and treat each person and create their wholesome path to recovery. 

OTs often help patients improve function, visual, cognitive, and general coordination skills with different functional activities.

The end goal for an OT is to allow people to live their lives independently and as fully as possible. 

Finally, the OT not only looks at the causes or treatment options but also pays attention to the patient's overall environment. The "whole person" approach focuses on wellness promotion, rehabilitation, and habilitation. It also includes educating the patient and their support system.


Occupational Therapist


The Difference Between OT and PT 

So what is the difference between occupational therapy and physical therapy? In short, PT focuses on improving a person’s ability to perform the movement and an OT focuses on the person’s ability to perform various daily activities.

Let's look a little closer. Physical therapy's primary focus is to improve gross motor function. The therapists have a deep understanding of body mechanics and how different motion, positioning, and exercise impact the body. 

After an initial consultation, a PT will usually create a program designed to improve strength, balance, and range of motion. Treatments often, but not exclusively, target the spine and lower extremities.

Occupational therapy specialist works to improve and positively impact how the person uses their fine motor and cognitive skills to perform tasks in their daily lives. 

Their primary goal is to help patients be able to participate in daily life activities such as work, leisure, self-care, socialization, and others. 

To achieve that, an OT will focus on physical exercises, various hands-on therapies such as massages. Furthermore, they will also help in such areas as creating and keeping a routine, problem-solving, education, organization as well as social skills. 


Hands Massage Therapy


Similarities Between PT and OT

It is evident that these types of therapies are quite similar and often overlap. 

Both provide hands-on, tailored care to each patient's specific needs and healing goals.

Occupational therapy and physical therapy share the same goal of helping the person heal, make progress, improve physical function, be able to perform daily activities, and live wholesome lives. All these goals are achieved through intensive training, therapies, and education.

Often patients start the treatment process with a physical therapist and later progress to an occupational therapist. For example, someone recovering from a car accident might work with a physical therapist to build back muscle strength first. 

But later, the same person will see an occupational therapist to practice basic skills the injury may have impaired. Those usually are everyday skills walking, eating, bathing, dressing.

All in all, both PT and OT aim to improve patient's overall functioning, quality of life, health, and well-being.


Benefits of Occupational and Physical Therapy


What to Choose As a Patient: PT or OT?

As in most situations, the patient needs to consult and work closely with their physician to determine whether to choose a PT or an OT for their healing process.

Everyone has different needs and requires individual assessment; however, there are some general tips on choosing between an occupational therapist and a physical therapist.


The Patient May Benefit More From an OT If They Want To:

  • Maximize their ability to safely and effectively perform various daily tasks.

  • Promote independence and productivity.

  • Look deeper into possible underlying conditions of pain, injury, and other issues.

  • Restore overall health and focus on healing as a whole 


The Patient May Benefit More From a PT If They Want To: 

  • Improve or restore movement, strength, and range of motion.

  • Decrease pain.

  • Prevent their illness or condition from getting worse.

  • Educate themselves on how to maintain overall fitness and functionality.

Both occupational and physical therapists will usually teach their patients tools and methods to employ in their everyday lives.

Those include stretches, exercises, and particular movements designed to help with such tasks as climbing the stairs or getting out of the tub.

In the end, the OTs and PTs will create, follow, and assess goals and healing progress, which are a necessary part of any treatment program. 

Physical Therapy Climbing StairsFrancesco Ruggeri / Getty Images


Final Conclusion

Since both physical and occupational therapies have stemmed from the same profession, they are closely intertwined. 

The difference between occupational therapy and physical therapy isn't clear cut, and most of the time, people benefit by combining both to achieve the best results. 

The most important decision is to choose a highly qualified professional who can provide the services needed to the individual patient.

That's why we in Miracle Rehab Clinic are proud of having the best facilities and a great team of professionals ready to help with your specific needs. Get in touch with us and start getting the treatment or therapy that you deserve.

Miracle Physical Therapy and Massage Center - Warren
3272 E. 12 Mile Rd. #106
Warren, MI 48092
Phone : 586-920-2596
Fax : 586-576-7298

Miracle Physical Therapy and Massage Center - Farmington Hills
30500 Northwestern Hwy. Ste. 316C
Farmington Hills, MI 48334
Phone : 248-539-8781
Fax : 248-539-8940

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Miracle Physical Therapy and Massage Center Inc.

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