What is the difference between Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy?
This is a very common question, and a great one at that. Many people are curious about the relationship between Occupational Therapy (OT) and Physical Therapy / Physiotherapy (PT). There is often confusion about these two professions and some even think that the two are synonymous. There are significant differences between the two professions, and there are also many grey areas where the two overlap. Read below for a more detailed explanation of how the are similar and how they are different.
As compared with Physical Therapy, occupational therapy tends to focus more on evaluating and improving a persons functional abilities and improving their ability to perform activities of daily living. An occupational therapist often does not directly treat a person’s injury using techniques such as manual therapy or acupuncture like a physical therapist would but more commonly helps a person optimize their independence and their ability to accomplish their daily activities following an injury or in situations of physical impairment.
Occupational therapists often will directly treat injuries, but more often occupational therapy focuses more on improving life skills and incorporating adaptive tools at times customized by the therapist. In some parts of the world occupational therapists utilize modalities such as use of ultrasound in injury rehabilitation, much like a physical therapist does.
Helping people improve their ability to carry out their daily tasks is a prime goal of the occupational therapist. An OT is more likely to perform on-site assessments of both the home environment and work environment and give recommendations on suitable adaptations of each to allow for a better quality of life. The occupational therapist is trained to modifying the physical environment as well as training the person to use assistive equipment to increase independence. While physical therapists do on-site assessments as well this tends to be less common.
Physical Therapy / Physiotherapy
The physical therapy profession (also called ‘physiotherapy’ in many parts of the world) tends to be more focused on evaluating and diagnosing movement dysfunctions as well as treating a person’s injury itself. While an occupational therapist will often also do diagnosis, the physical therapist will be more likely to diagnose and treat the physical source of the problem; the injured tissues and structures. They work towards maximizing the bodies ability to move itself.
A physical therapist is more likely to make use of modalities in their treatment protocols. Such modalities include ultrasound, interferential current (IFC) and shockwave therapy. Some other types of treatment more commonly used in physical therapy treatment are acupuncture, intramuscular stimulation (IMS), cupping, and Active Release Technique (ART©).
Both physical and occupational therapists are trained extensively in anatomy and the musculoskeletal system resulting in both being very knowledgeable about musculoskeletal injuries and rehabilitation than a general practitioner medical doctor.
Overlap Between OT and PT
Although the two health care professions have differences in their focus there is much crossover between OT and PT. For an example of the crossover, an occupational therapist is often involved in educating people on how to prevent and avoid injuries, as well as educating people about the healing process, just like a physical therapist. Physical therapists in turn often help people improve their ability to do their daily activities through education and training. While there is this crossover between professions both play very important roles and are specialized in their areas of expertise. In many situations, both types of health-care professional are involved in injury recovery.