Physical vs Occupational Therapy

26August 2021

After injuries, surgeries, and accidents a lot of emphasis is placed on rehabilitative care. Its goal is to improve your condition or at least prevent its getting worse. Some of the caregivers you may encounter include physical therapists and occupational therapists. These two areas on the surface seem redundant. It is true they have some similarities, but they are also different in some ways.

Differences

Physical therapy (PT) helps the individual improve movement, mobility, and functions. The therapist uses exercises, stretches and other movements to strengthen the muscles to help a person move better and with less pain.

Occupational therapy (OT) helps a person with daily tasks. Usually this involves fine and gross motor skills. It focuses on making the home, school, or work environment the best it can be to help you in everyday tasks.

So, a PT helps you move better and an OT helps you do activities of daily living easier. As an example, treating a person who has had a stroke, the PT helps them walk and raise their arm and the OT helps them relearn how to eat and put their clothes on. Either or both of them can help the person work on tasks like getting into and out of a bathtub.

Both are very knowledgeable about how the body works and how to maintain or improve functionality. Each will set goals and develop exercises to help the patient reach their potential, as well as monitor progress.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is recommended or prescribed for a number of conditions:

  • Injury
  • Surgical procedure
  • Pain management
  • Joint conditions like arthritis or ankylosing spondylitis
  • Neurological conditions like multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s
  • Stroke recovery
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Pulmonary issues like COPD or cystic fibrosis
  • Cardiac

Using exercises, stretching, manipulation, ultrasound treatments and electrical stimulation the PT will help you return movement and range of motion to what it was prior to the diagnosis, or at least help prevent it from worsening. They also help educate individuals about how to maintain or improve physical health and functionality. Their services can be found at their own clinics or offices, inpatient facilities, schools, and fitness centers.

Occupational Therapy

If an illness, condition or surgery affects a person’s ability to handle daily tasks, OT can be ordered. This includes:

  • Neurological issues like multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy or stroke
  • Arthritis and other joint conditions
  • Developmental disabilities like ASD (autism spectrum disorder), intellectual disabilities, or other learning disorders
  • Recovery from injury or surgery and pain management
  • Psychological issues including depression or anxiety
  • Various forms for dementia

The OT has a variety of everyday tasks that can be handled easier like relearning ordinary functions (eating, bathing), how to handle devices (wheelchairs or walkers), checking home, workplace and schools for easier ways to do things. They can offer exercises to increase flexibility or reduce pain. The goal is, as much as possible, to return to “normal” living including return to work or favorite pastimes. They help with family members to support your activities and to help you manage the stress of the illness or condition. Ultimately they help you become more independent. You can find their services in their own offices, inpatient facilities, and mental health facilities.

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