Occupational Therapy and Physiotherapy: What is the Difference

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Physical therapy and occupational therapy are two types of rehabilitative care. The goal of rehabilitative care is to improve or prevent the worsening of your condition or quality of life due to an injury, surgery, or illness.

While there are some similarities between physical therapy and occupational therapy, there are also key differences.

This article will take a closer look at both types of therapies, the benefits they offer, and how they differ from one another.

What are the key differences?

Physical therapy, also known as PT, focuses on helping improve your movement, mobility, and function. A physical therapist may do this by using a variety of exercises, stretches, or other physical activities.

For example, someone who has had knee replacement surgery may visit a physical therapist as part of their recovery.

The physical therapist will work with the patient to help strengthen their knee and increase the range of motion in their knee joint. This can help them move more easily with less pain and discomfort.

Occupational therapy, also known as OT, focuses on helping you perform daily tasks more easily. This type of therapy focuses on improving your fine and gross motor skills so you can carry out specific day-to-day activities. The occupational therapist will also focus on making your home or school environment more optimal for your everyday life.

For example, an occupational therapist may help someone recovering from a stroke relearn how to do daily tasks, like dressing or eating with utensils. They may also make changes in the home, like installing a grab bar in the shower.

What are the similarities?

Despite their differences, there are some ways that PT and OT are similar. These include:

  • Overall purpose. PT and OT both aim to improve your overall functioning, quality of life, and knowledge about how to maintain your health and well-being.
  • Conditions. There’s considerable overlap with the health conditions for which both therapies may be recommended.
  • Design. Both types of therapy provide hands-on care that’s tailored to the patient’s specific needs.
  • Tasks. There can be some overlap in the tasks performed. For example, occupational therapists may also teach stretches or exercises. Physical therapists may work on movements to help with daily activities, such as getting in and out of the tub.
  • Goals and monitoring. Both types of therapy set goals and assess your progress as you work to achieve them.

What does a physical therapist do?

Now that we’ve discussed the differences and similarities between PT and OT, let’s break down what a physical therapist does in more detail.

What are the goals of physical therapy?

The overall goals of PT focus on:

  • improving or restoring movement, strength, and range of motion
  • decreasing pain
  • preventing your condition from getting worse
  • educating you on ways to maintain your overall fitness and functionality

When is physical therapy needed?

PT is often recommended when a condition affects your movement or range of motion. PT can be used for:

What type of therapy can you expect?

The type of therapy you’ll receive will be tailored to your specific needs. The physical therapist will carefully review your medical history and current health condition to develop a plan and goals for your therapy.

Physical therapists use a variety of techniques, including:

Where can you receive physical therapy?

Physical therapists work in a variety of locations, including but not limited to:

  • outpatient clinics or offices
  • inpatient facilities, such as hospitals and nursing homes
  • home health agencies
  • schools
  • fitness centers

What does an occupational therapist do?

Now let’s look at OT a little more closely and what it entails.

What are the goals of occupational therapy?

The overarching goals of OT are to:

  • maximize your ability to safely and effectively perform various daily tasks
  • promote independence and productivity
  • educate caregivers on how to help someone who is undergoing OT

When is occupational therapy needed?

OT may be recommended when a condition or illness affects your ability to do various day-to-day tasks. Some examples of conditions that OT may be used for include:

What type of therapy can you expect?

The occupational therapist will review your medical history and your condition to determine what your needs are. Then, they’ll use this information to develop a therapy plan and set specific goals.

Some of the things that may be involved as part of OT include:

  • helping you learn or relearn how to perform daily tasks, such as getting dressed, eating, and bathing
  • assessing your home, school, or workplace to identify ways to make your daily tasks easier
  • teaching you how to use assistive devices, such as wheelchairs and walkers
  • helping you with tasks that require fine motor skills, such as writing or buttoning a shirt
  • training you on ways to safely get into and out of chairs, your bed, or the bathtub
  • showing you exercises you can perform to help increase flexibility or reduce pain
  • assisting you with programs that help you return to work
  • teaching you strategies for managing stress
  • educating your loved ones and caregivers on how to effectively support you in your day-to-day life

Where can you receive occupational therapy?

Occupational therapists work in a variety of facilities, including:

  • outpatient clinics or offices
  • inpatient facilities, such as hospitals and nursing homes
  • mental health facilities
  • schools
  • home health agencies

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