Physical Therapy vs. Occupational Therapy

Physical Therapy vs. Occupational Therapy

If you are deciding to pursue a career in rehabilitation services, you may be wondering whether you should focus on physical therapy or occupational therapy. Even though, the responsibilities may seem similar, there are striking differences between the two.

What is the Difference?

The primary difference between physical therapy and occupational therapy is the different targets that each has for the patient. Physical therapy focuses on helping the patient move their body as a whole. Occupational therapy, on the other hand, focuses on the patient’s ability to perform activities of daily living (ADL).

What do Physical Therapists do?

After an injury or illness, an individual may be incapacitated in movement. Physical therapists play the role of helping such patients in performing specific body movements. They assist with functionality and range of motion. They also help decrease pain and help to align bones and joints. This can be achieved through specific exercises and stretches.

What do Occupational Therapists do?

As per the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy, occupational therapists use a holistic approach to a patient’s participation in activities as well as their roles and environment. Occupational therapy helps patient regain function and adapt to changes by addressing all of the different aspects of recovery instead of the physical alone. Occupational therapists can help patients regain their ability to perform daily functional tasks. This could range from being able to sit in a car to cook a meal.

How are they similar?

Even though, physical and occupational therapists have different roles and responsibilities, there is an overlap between the two. A patient may need both kinds of therapy. If so, the therapists would have to work in conjunction to make a care plan that provides the best recovery. They both help patients overcome common injuries with different exercises and techniques.  For example, a survivor of an accident might first have to work with a physical therapist to get their range of motion back. Once that is achieved, they may work with an occupational therapist on their ability to perform daily activities such as bathing and dressing.  Both physical and occupational therapists can be found helping patients in a variety of environments. This can include:

  1. Long-term care facilities i.e. nursing homes

  2. Assisted living facilities

  3. Hospitals

  4. Private Practices

How can Cornerstone help you?

No matter which career you decide to pursue, you will have plenty of opportunities to grow and learn with Cornerstone. We are clinician-owned and committed to our therapists and their long-term development. Learn more about how you can join our team at