What is the Difference between an Occupational Therapist and a Physical Therapist?
In many cases OT’s work closely with Physical Therapists (PT) but the two professions are not the same.
PTs are musculoskeletal and movement specialists and also specialize in advice regarding injury or re-injury prevention. PTs address a patient’s physical deficits such as their strength, range of motion, balance, mobility, endurance, proprioception (knowing where your body or limbs are in space) and pain issues. Physical Therapy attempts to maximize physical function in order for a patient to have the appropriate physical ability (strength, range of motion, balance, and joint control) to return to doing their everyday tasks including work and recreation activities. PTs may need to use hands-on therapy in order to accomplish this or work with patients by doing specific exercises that improve these physical abilities.
OTs, as described above, work more closely with both evaluating and improving a patient’s current physical and mental abilities in order for the patient to get back to the meaningful activities of their daily life such as eating, washing, toileting, writing, sleeping, getting in and out of a car, mental activities, and mobility etc. An OT may need to provide special equipment that patients use in order to be able to carry out their daily tasks due to their injury or illness.
Commonalities and Distinctions:
Sometimes it is difficult to draw a line in the sand distinctly between where OT or PT ends and the other begins. There are several areas of recovery that both an OT or a PT can address, and often have to address if the other profession is not available in an individual circumstance, as in hand therapy, for example. That being said, however, the two professions are both highly trained in their specific areas; there are certain aspects of rehabilitation that OTs are experts in and also specific aspects of rehabilitation that PTs are experts in. Both professions are familiar with working with one another and are also experts in knowing when to pass a particular aspect of patient care on to their rehabilitative counterpart. As often as possible OTs and PTs will both work collaboratively on a team in order to assist patients.
One common aspect for sure in all cases is that both OTs and PTs have a goal of returning patients to their maximum ability and function and to get them back to what is most important to them in life, as quickly and as safely as possible.