What is the difference between Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy?

A client of mine asked me yesterday why she has to have physical therapy and occupational therapy. While the two therapies have the same goals for her (in this case, strength, balance and stamina), they take different approaches. Physical Therapists and Occupational Therapists often work together for common goals, especially when working with more broad goals such as strength building and balance.

A Physical Therapists start by diagnosing or setting up a treatment plan for a physical dysfunction. It may be an injury or it may be a more broad diagnosis as mentioned above with strength building. They set up exercises, massage and manipulations to help heal the problem. In the case of my client who needs to improve her strength now that she is in her 90’s, most of what the physical therapist will do is focused on exercises.

An Occupational Therapist focuses more on taking the diagnosis or limitations of the patient and figuring out how to make their daily living easier with their limitations. They may use adaptive equipment to assist the patient. For example, with my client, bathing is now difficult. The Occupational therapist is training her how to use a shower chair and grab rails to make it safer for her to shower. An Occupational Therapist will often work with a Physical Therapist to find the proper equipment needed for the patient. This may be a walker or wheelchair, or a brace that needs to be put on each morning.

Both Physical Therapists and Occupational Therapists work with their patients to educate them on ways to be safer and healthier as they strengthen. They are often covered with your insurance or Medicare. If you think you or a loved one could benefit from therapies, ask your doctor for more information.