Physical therapy and occupational therapy are both forms of rehabilitation that help individuals recover from injuries or illnesses and improve their overall health and quality of life. While both professions focus on helping patients regain their physical abilities and independence, there are important differences between the two fields.
Let’s explore the distinct roles of physical therapy and occupational therapy and review examples of the types of conditions and patients that a PT and OT typically treat.
Getting to Know Physical Therapy
Physical therapy, also known as physiotherapy, is a healthcare profession that focuses on the assessment, diagnosis, treatment and management of physical impairments and disabilities. Physical therapists use a variety of techniques and treatments to help patients improve their strength, flexibility, endurance and balance, as well as reduce pain and inflammation. They also work with patients to prevent the development of new conditions or recurrence of old ones.
One example of a condition that physical therapy can help with is a knee injury. A physical therapist would work with a patient to improve their knee joint's range of motion and strengthen the muscles around the knee to reduce pain and prevent further injury. Additionally, physical therapy can be useful in post-operative care and rehabilitation, such as helping a patient recover from hip or knee replacement surgery to regain their strength and mobility.
Another example is for individuals who have suffered from a stroke. Physical therapy can help with the rehabilitation process, for instance, by working on improving the patient's balance and coordination, as well as regaining movement and function of affected limbs. This can include exercises that focus on building strength and endurance of the lower extremity (hip, knee, ankle, feet), improving range of motion and flexibility.
Getting to Know Occupational Therapy
Occupational therapy, on the other hand, is a healthcare profession that focuses on assessing and creating a treatment plan that caters to the individual’s needs to increase their ability to participate in activities of daily living (ADLs) and school or work-related tasks that are important to them.
Occupational therapists use a variety of techniques and treatments to help improve patient’s fine motor skills, cognitive abilities, upper extremity (shoulder, elbow, wrist, hand) strength and overall function. They help patients regain their ability to perform day to day tasks as they did prior to injury or help them learn new ways to perform activities of daily living if they are unable to do so in their current state.
One example of a condition that occupational therapy can help with is a hand injury, such as carpal tunnel syndrome. An occupational therapist would work with a patient to improve their hand's strength and dexterity, as well as teach them new ways to perform daily tasks such as writing, buttoning clothes and using tools that don't cause pain or further injury. Occupational therapy can also help people with developmental disorders such as autism or ADHD develop the skills needed for independent living and work.
Another example is for individuals who have suffered from dementia - occupational therapists can work with them to improve their ability to perform activities of daily living through exercises and activities to increase attention span and balance training in order to complete a task. They may also help the patient find ways to adapt the environment to make it more manageable, like providing adaptive utensils or installing grab bars in the bathroom to improve safety.
Comparing Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy
Essentially, physical therapy and occupational therapy offer rehabilitation services that focus on different aspects of a patient's recovery and ability to perform daily activities. Both professions help with balance, postural stability, coordination and equilibrium of the body.
In the Outpatient setting, the key difference is that PT focuses on improving a patient's physical abilities related to the lower body majority of the time and occupational therapy focuses on physical abilities of the upper body to increase strength, range of motion, flexibility and more.
Meet Halima, Occupational Therapist at Park North Physical Therapy
Choosing Between Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy
The experts at Park North Physical Therapy now offer a free screening to determine which service (or both) will ensure patients have the best possible outcome. We consider each patient's specific needs, goals and timeline to determine which type of therapy is most appropriate for them.
Call us today at 212-222-6525 to schedule a free 15-minute screening at either of our locations and schedule an OT consultation at the Broadway location.