What is the Difference Between Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy?
At first glance, physical therapy and occupational therapy may seem to be much the same thing, so how do you know which one you need?
To begin with, physical therapists and occupational therapists approach clients in very different ways. Of course, both physical and occupational therapists deal with patients with physical injuries and limitations. The difference shows up in how they treat the issues, as well as in what issues those are.
Physical Therapy is defined as the treatment of disease, injury, or deformity by physical methods. A physical therapist, in other words, deals with “the big picture”. Clients of physical therapists will find themselves working on their strength, balance, flexibility. In other words, the basics of motion. Occupational therapists go beyond this.
Some things Physical Therapists can help with:
- Learning to walk
- Lifting , pulling, bending
- Manipulating larger objects
On the other hand, occupational therapists, while dealing with these bigger issues, also tend to the finer points of daily life and activities. They can help clients relearn how to tie their shoes, do up buttons, and manipulate small objects. They can facilitate independence by teaching or re-teaching necessary tasks and skills such as writing, cooking, and even housework.
The clients of occupational therapists may need help in those broader areas that physical therapy covers, as well, and occupational therapy can be supplemented by physical therapy. Some clients of one type of therapist are also clients of the other, as the two go hand in hand in many cases.
Unlike physical therapists who, as the title suggests, deal only with physical ailments, occupational therapists can work with clients in many ways. Beyond the physical aspect, occupational therapy covers much more than physical therapy. Occupational therapists can aid clients in developmental and cognitive disorders such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and all types of learning disabilities; sensory disorders, such as information integration and autism; mental health, including depression, anxiety and eating disorders, as well as addiction.
Another big difference between physical therapists and occupational therapists is the help clients get, from an OT, with the world around them and the things that affect them in everyday life, not only limitations brought on by their own physical and mental state. An OT can help a client with:
- Medication management: helping clients keep track of their medications, teaching them about their effects and any interactions.
- Routine and schedules: the OT can help develop an outline for the client to follow, and help them implement and stick to it.
- Education: an OT can suggest training, experiential training, groups and classes tailored to the individual client’s needs.
All in all, physical therapy and occupational therapy overlap in some areas, and, at times, it can be hard to tell which is which. What makes the biggest difference is the aid in life from day to day, combining the physical, mental and environmental aspects of the client’s situation to arrive at a plan that will heal as well as re-enable the client through occupational therapy.
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