The difference between occupational therapy and physical therapy

man receiving physiotherapy massage

Occupational therapy and physical therapy are often confused with each other – and it’s not hard to see why. Both forms of therapy are often used to help patients recover from illness and injury. In fact, the two fields were once considered as one. Reconstruction aides, who helped to rehabilitate injured soldiers during the First World War, were responsible for the duties of both an occupational and a physical therapist. However, today they are carried out as two separate professions as, while they have some similarities, there are some integral factors that differentiate the two. In this article, we will outline the key differences that define these two forms of therapy.

What is occupational therapy?

Occupational therapy is used to treat patients who are having trouble going about their day-to-day activities. The overall goal of this type of therapy is to help improve a patient’s function with everyday tasks and activities. This could be to do with a patient’s life at home, school or the workplace. The “occupation” in the term occupational therapy simply refers to any activities that gives a patient a sense of purpose and independence. These activities can range from short term goals, like shopping and making a cup of tea, to longer term goals such as succeeding at school.

Occupational therapists work with a wide range of people who are suffering from a particular condition – whether this be a serious injury, a mental health illness or a learning disability. They study the aspects of the patient’s daily life that they are struggling with and help them find ways of managing them with their injury or condition.

For example, a patient who has recently become wheelchair dependent after suffering a serious spinal injury might receive guidance from an occupational therapist to help them overcome the challenges; for instance, encouraging and helping them to find ways to spend more time outside of the house. An injury of this severity would seriously disrupt how the patient would go about their daily life, and an occupational therapist would help them to continue to go about their life in different ways.

What is physical therapy?

Physical therapy, or physiotherapy, is used to treat the movement and function of specific areas of the body. Physiotherapists are trained to diagnose and treat abnormal physical function. These physical ailments may have arisen in a patient due to an injury, disability or medical condition. A physiotherapist can help to speed up your recovery process through muscle releases, home exercise programmes, advice, education and a number of other treatment modalities. Physiotherapy is used to treat children, elderly and everyone in between.

A physiotherapist’s end goal is to get their patient back on their feet so they can return to their original level of function. This could be a mobility, exercise or daily task orientated goal they are looking to return to. Physiotherapy can also be used to help reduce the risk of injury or loss of mobility occurring in the future through suggesting fitness regimes for the patient to incorporate into their lifestyle. A patient might go to see a physiotherapist to gain help recovering from a sports-related injury, back pain, post orthopedic surgery or even neurological conditions such as stroke and Parkinson’s.

What is the difference between occupational and physical therapy?

While there are some similarities between these two therapies, there are some factors that distinguish the two apart. The main difference between the two is that occupational therapy focuses on the patient as a whole and their ability to complete their activities of daily living (ADLs). On the other hand, physical therapy focuses on a specific general function and how individual parts of the body function rather than a specific task.

Furthermore, physical therapy aims to heal the injury and impairments through massages, exercises and a number of other treatment modalities, while occupational therapy is used to help patients go about their day to day routine while still suffering from their injury. Therefore, an occupational therapist is more likely to prescribe the use of adaptive equipment (such as a prosthetic leg or a steady spoon for Parkinson’s sufferers) rather than suggest exercise or stretching routines as a physical therapist would.

Is there a crossover between the two?

There is certainly an overlap between the two professions, which is why they are so easily confused. Both work with patients of all ages and help with similar conditions and injuries, although they can do so in differing ways. They can often work together to achieve the same goal.

Due to this overlap, there are some cases in which a patient may use a combination of the two therapies together. A patient may use a physical therapist to recover from an injury, while also seeing an occupational therapist to help with performing daily activities that may have been hindered by this injury. For example, someone who has suffered from a stroke might see a physiotherapist to rebuild limb and muscle strength. This same patient could simultaneously see a occupational therapist to gain help with specific tasks such as eating and receive the necessary equipment to facilitate this.

Hopefully, we have been able to clear up any confusion between these two differing professions. Despite the crossovers that exist between the two, there is one main distinguishing factor. Physiotherapy focuses specifically on the motor functions and movement of the body, while occupational therapy is more concerned with improving a patient’s ability to perform specific day to day activities. While the two can been used in conjunction, they are certainly not the same profession as they are each better suited for separate purposes.

 If you think you could benefit from physiotherapy, then get in touch with Qured. We have a number of friendly and qualified physiotherapists who can come to you door in as little as two hours to see to your needs. To benefit from our many health services, sign up to Qured today.