Physical therapy and occupational therapy may be confused for one or the other because oftentimes the therapists in these professions work closely together on similar patients—if not on the same patients. Both types of therapy are considered rehabilitative care. The goal of rehabilitative care is to improve or prevent worsening conditions, or worsening your quality of life. Essentially, any type of rehabilitative care wants to better your life after injury, surgery, illness, or even after disability.
But that doesn’t mean every type of rehabilitative care is for everyone. There are similarities between physical and occupational therapy. But there are also differences, and that’s really where the key lies. Physical therapy, known as PT, focuses on movement, mobility and function—specifically on improving said ability and skills in those areas. You might have a physical therapist who assigns you stretch, exercise and other physical activities that have been tailored to your situation.
An example is someone who’s had major surgery—let’s say knee surgery. Your physical therapist is going to strengthen your knee and increase the range of motion (ROM). This is important because their knee joint might not want to move as much as it should, especially if they’re just had replacement surgery. Working with a physical therapist, is going to ensure your knee moves as much as it possibly can without causing you pain.
So let’s talk about occupational therapy. What is it? It’s known as OT, not overtime folks, occupational therapy. It focuses on performing daily tasks. You have fine and gross motor skills that you use every day without realizing it, and this therapy knows that. They’re able to see if you’re struggling to do something and they know how to help.
Say you have had a stroke and you cannot hold utensils. That’s obviously not the best thing for your mental health, your overall health, the health of your family, or your independence. The occupational therapist might help you make changes that give you independence back. You’ll relearn how to do things, and if that means your therapist has to get creative and find new utensils that work for you? They’ll do that. They may even make it. An occupational therapist may make changes in your home, if you’ve recently become disabled. They’re going to want to keep you safe, independent, and doing things by yourself as much as possible.
Your occupational therapist wants to maximize your ability to safely perform daily tasks like eating, drinking, walking, running and more. They want to promote your independence and productivity. They also want to educate your caregivers and family, because you may still need help, and who’s better to help you than a family that’s been trained?
You might receive occupational therapy after recovering from injuries, surgeries, to manage pain, if you have neurological conditions, joint conditions, and more.