Occupational Therapy vs. Physical Therapy: Diagnosing the Differences


“Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it.” – Plato

Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy are often assumed to be similar. Both therapies promote a healthy lifestyle and virtually require the same set of skills. So how are they different? How would you know whether you need to consult an occupational therapist or a physical therapist or both?

Let’s find out.

What does the word occupation convey? It is related to an individual’s work and how they engage themselves. Physical, on the other hand, pertains to the human body.

Occupational Therapy vs. Physical Therapy

The difference between Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy is that both professions apply a particular science and the difference lies in the science that they apply. With Physical Therapy – the science involves physical science, which is a science of exercise and movement whereas, with Occupational Therapy, the science involves occupational science, which is the science of doing and functional activities. Therefore, it’s about the things that we do in any 24-hour given period which are occupations in the broader sense, (e.g. daily activities of life). Though occupational therapy and physical therapy both deal with injury recovery, they each feature two distinct ways of examining patients. Below we have listed the difference in both therapies.

1. Fundamentals

Physical Therapy: Physical therapy is most certainly what everybody thinks it is. When you injure yourself, you visit a physical therapist. The primary goal is to get you back on your feet without having to opt for expensive surgeries or be forced to go on long-term medication. Physical therapy focuses on improving movement of the human body. Physical therapists educate you on how to avoid specific situations that might cause a relapse and offer advice on supervising yourself for long-term benefits.

Occupational Therapy: Occupational therapy also deals with physical condition, mobility, and rehabilitation; however, it shifts its primary focus to helping people conduct their day to day activities, with ease. Occupational therapists assist their patients in the long term by using certain techniques and by modifying their environment. They work with patients facing impairment or limitations to functional movement with the goal of improving the individual’s ability to complete activities of daily living.

2. Required Knowledge:

Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy: Education criteria for both therapies are rather stringent. A Majority of the entry-level jobs for occupational and physical therapists require a bachelor or master's degree along with licensure.

Entry-level physical therapy positions are expected to require a doctorate by the year 2020, while occupational therapy positions will likely follow suit by 2025, with strict licensing laws in place for everyone who wants to work in these fields. Most countries require that physical therapists be licensed in the proximity of their work. Licensure is also required for occupational therapists in most countries, although the criteria to acquire and maintain the necessary certification varies from one country to next.

3. Job Functions and Dexterity:

Physical Therapy: The primary focus of physical therapists is mainly in the anatomy of the human body and anatomical injuries. A physical therapist evaluates the patient's strength, their function, and development. A physical therapist’s work revolves around helping the patient improve their movability and in preventing further injury. They even assist after the treatment, if it is required.

Occupational Therapy: According to AOTA (American Occupational Therapists Association), although occupational therapy focuses on a few physical aspects as a part of the treatment process, higher importance is given to understanding the mental health of an individual rather than anatomical aspects of the body. They help patients in maintaining work and life balance by understanding their physical strength and capabilities and crafting various workout schemes.

Important Takeaways:

1. Several skills required by occupational and physical therapists are similar.

2. Various methods of occupational therapy are commonly used in physical therapy and vice versa.

3.While occupational therapy addresses the mental health of the patient, physical therapists ensure that patients can mobilize without any external effort.

Does this blog answer your questions about physical and occupational therapy? If you would like to know more, please do write to us in comments below and we will get in touch with you!

#OT #occupationaltherapy #PhysicalTherapy

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