While the fields of physical and occupational therapy are closely linked, there are essential differences between the two. They are often associated because they both involve hands-on rehabilitative work to help patients with injuries or disabilities return to normal functioning. However, their missions are slightly different.
Physical therapists focus mainly on working with people recovering from injuries with the goal of getting them back moving again with exercises, massage and other techniques. Their goal is to reduce pain and improve one’s range of motion, balance and strength. Furthermore, physical therapists also work to prevent future injuries in addition to trying to avoid surgery or chronic dependence on medications. For this reason, they often devise fitness and wellness programs geared to a healthier, more active lifestyle for their clients.
Typical injuries treated by physical therapists include orthopedic conditions, spinal injuries, joint replacements, concussions and sports injuries.
Occupational therapists, on the other hand, assist their patients with their daily tasks regardless of whether they are healing from illness, injuries or have disabilities that limit behavior, emotions or motor skills. Their title derives from how they deal with the important daily tasks that are regarded as occupations.
While some occupational therapy occurs in an office or hospital, much of it takes place in a patient’s work or home environment. Common conditions treated by occupational therapists include fractures, arthritis, tendon lacerations and amputation of the forearm, wrist and fingers.
For instance, an occupational therapist may help a patient with getting dressed or with cognitive issues such as memory loss. As a result, he or she may also introduce a patient to an adaptive equipment and could recommend how to make areas of their house or apartment more accessible for people with disabilities.
Occupational therapists also assist children with disabilities to participate more fully in school and social situations. Their aim is to help patients through the parts of their daily routine that give them trouble, so they can live their lives more completely.
Many physical and occupational therapy practices offer home care as a means to help patients lessen pain, prevent injuries and to get back to independent living. Rehabilitation visits inside the home are beneficial for treating joint pain, balance problems, stroke and head injuries.
Indeed, it is common for physicians to request physical therapy for patients need help recovering from a fall and need to know how to prevent it happening again. Typically, the physical therapist will assess their condition and help to determine the patient’s goals during the initial visit. Upon subsequent visits the therapist will work with the patient to improve their range of motion, strength, balance and posture. The overarching principle is to add mobility while reducing pain. For this reason, therapists also educate patients about the kinds of habits to avoid and the types of stretches and exercises they should do between visits.
Additional Practice Areas
In addition to home health care, physical and occupational therapists share a number of common practice settings. For example, they may work with patients in acute care, inpatient and outpatient settings, and long-term care along with skilled nursing facilities and schools.
Sometimes, these therapists also do specialized work in other settings such as in-home care for infants with developmental problems, farms with children with autism receiving hippotherapy and Veterans Affairs hospitals for veterans dealing with spinal cord injuries.
Interestingly, some patients begin treatment with a physical therapist and then move on to an occupational therapist. For instance, a patient recovering from a stroke may start with a physical therapist in order to strengthen back muscles. Afterwards, however, that same patient may work with an occupational therapist for help using the restroom or even buttoning a shirt.
Whatever the affliction or injury, physical and occupational therapists both work towards the common goal of achieving greater mobility and function for their patients. By understanding their patients’ individual needs and collaboratively working toward their defined health goals, these healthcare professionals ensure that the recovery period is as quick and painless as possible.