Physical therapy and occupational therapy are two similar but separate disciplines within the medical field. So what is the difference between a physical and occupational therapist?
Because physical and occupational therapy are so closely related, many people refer to these two distinct professions interchangeably, further confusing the similarities and differences between them. If you worked in either of these fields, you would definitely know the difference and might even be offended if you were called by the wrong one! Find out the difference now.
Similarities Between Occupational and Physical Therapy
Both physical and occupational therapists treat patients suffering from physical limitations, injuries, and medical conditions that affect their regular physical functioning. Both healthcare professionals provide one-on-one care to patients, promoting and increasing movement while also preventing further injury or even permanent disability. Physical therapists and occupational therapists both share a common goal of restoring or at least increasing the function of those who have either temporarily or permanently lost mobility.
Additionally, physical and occupational therapists both must complete many advanced courses in human anatomy and the musculoskeletal system, therein acquiring the know-how to treat and rehabilitate those suffering from various physical conditions. A post bachelor"s degree and special certification is required to practice as a physical therapist and occupational therapist. Often times, physical therapists and occupational therapists collaborate while providing patient care. While they do have a likeness in scope, there are still many major differences between physical therapists and occupational therapists. Let’s discuss a few.
Physical therapists commonly focus on one specific area of the body that needs to be treated. Concentrating on the assessment and identification of affected muscles and tissues that result in dysfunctions in movement, physical therapists assist patients with physical movement and help them improve strength, flexibility, and balance. Along with helping patients learn to walk, lift, pull, and bend, they also help them relearn to manipulate objects. Physical therapists commonly work with patients suffering from debilitating conditions like illness, injury, arthritis, and stroke. Unfortunately, patients who are permanently disabled commonly require lifelong physical therapy services. Some physical therapists work with clients to prevent further mobility loss before it occurs, such as in athletic training or during surgical procedures.
While physical therapists usually focus on a specific part of the body, occupational therapists are concerned with overall health and mobility in order to restore physical function. Unlike physical therapists, occupational therapists do not use manual therapy, but instead concentrate on all aspects of health in order to promote the entire functioning of the body, helping patients regain the ability to perform everyday tasks in home, school, and workplace environments. Focusing on physical, mental, and emotional health, occupational therapists will assess and modify a patient’s physical environment to help them relearn the ability to perform common activities like tying shoes, eating, and using simple tools.
Occupational therapists sometimes do use physical exercises to build up dexterity and strength, while mental exercises improve coordination, memory, and problem solving skills. In general, occupational therapists do not treat an individual"s physical ailment directly, but promote independence among patients so they can once again complete daily activities after the condition has occurred. Sometimes occupational therapists help patients use adaptive tools to complete activities, such as wheelchairs and eating aids.
Patients receiving occupational therapy services may need further assistance in even broader areas. Examples of medical conditions that require occupational therapy services include learning disabilities, sensory disorders, and mental health conditions, like depression and drug addiction. Occupational therapists commonly work in hospitals, as these services are often part of patient treatment plans. They also complete on-site evaluations of patient’s home and work environments in order to provide recommendations that will lead to a higher quality of life. Occupational therapists sometimes will design and construct specialized equipment that also serves to improve the lives of patients in both home and work environments.
Both physical and occupational therapists work in common workplaces, such as hospitals, private clinics, rehabilitation centers, community health centers, home health agencies, nursing homes, schools, and colleges and universities. Physical therapists also often work for sports facilities, while occupational therapists often find employment in mental health facilities.
Let’s go over what we’ve learned. While physical therapy and occupational therapy are similar fields, occupational therapists focus on promoting the overall physical health of a patient while physical therapists are trained to treat a specific body part. These two healthcare professionals can often find themselves working together in different capacities, both concerned with restoring a patient to a healthy and happy life.