Occupational Therapy vs Physical Therapy: 3 Major Differences

Occupational Therapy vs Physical Therapy

Occupational Therapy vs Physical Therapy

Modern physical therapy was developed in the late 1800s and rapidly during the polio outbreak in 1916 and the outbreak of the First World War. Similarly, the first occupational therapy was used in the 1800s. However, it was first recognized as a profession in 1917 with the emergence of the American Occupational Therapy Association (then known as the National Society for Promotion of Occupational Therapy). 

Although the origins of these two therapies are similar, their main goals, patient types, and techniques are quite different. In our article “Occupational Therapy vs Physical Therapy: 3 Major Difference” we will discuss these differences so that you can be more prepared when deciding which therapy is best for you.

Primary Goals

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy focuses on helping patients perform their necessary daily tasks more easily and increase the patient’s independence. This could include focuses on:

  • Recovering from injuries/conditions
  • Improving fine-motor skills
  • Adapting to developmental or cognitive disabilities affecting emotions or behavior
  • Adapting to developmental or cognitive disabilities affecting motor skills

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy focuses on preventing injury, recovering from injuries, or improving functions necessary for daily life or recreational activities. This could include focuses on:

  • Decreasing pain
  • Increasing range of motion
  • Increasing strength
  • Preventing an injury from worsening

Patient Type

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy is usually recommended for patients experiencing a condition or illness that affects their day-to-day tasks. These conditions or illnesses could include:

  • Neurological conditions (ex. Multiple Sclerosis, Cerebral Palsy)
  • Stroke
  • Joint conditions (ex. Osteoarthritis, Rheumatoid Arthritis)
  • Hand conditions (ex. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Trigger Finger)
  • Developmental conditions (ex. Autism Spectrum disorder, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder)
  • Psychological conditions (ex. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Depression, Anxiety)
  • Dementia or Alzheimers

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is often recommended when a condition or injury affects your movement or range of motion. These conditions or injuries could include:

  • Major and minor ligament injuries (ex. ACL tears, MCL tears)
  • Major and minor cartilage injuries (ex. Labral tears)
  • Major and minor joint injuries (ex. Dislocation)
  • Joint conditions (ex. Osteoarthritis, Rheumatoid Arthritis)
  • Hand conditions (ex. Carpal tunnel Syndrome, Trigger Finger)
  • Lung conditions (ex. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, Cystic Fibrosis)
  • Recovery from Heart conditions (ex. Heart Attacks, Heart Failure, and Recovery)
  • Cancer

Types of Techniques Used

Occupational Therapy

A patient’s occupational therapy treatment plan could include:

  • Assistance in relearning how to perform daily tasks
  • Assistance in learning how to use assistive devices (ex. Wheelchairs, walking canes)
  • Learning strategies for stress or anxiety management
  • Learning techniques to improve fine motor skills
  • Exercises to reduce pain
  • Exercises or stretches to improve flexibility
  • An assessment of the patient’s home, work, or school environments after which changes could be made to make the patient’s daily tasks easier
  • Educating the patient’s family or caregivers on how to effectively support the patient in their day-to-day life

Physical Therapy

A patient’s physical therapy treatment plan could include:

  • Targeted exercises
  • Stretching
  • Balance/stabilization training
  • Motion training
  • Manual therapy (ex. Tissue mobilization, hands-on manipulation)
  • Breaking down of scar tissue
  • Ice and heat application
  • Electrical stimulation (E-Stim)
  • Aquatic therapy
  • Ultrasound

Main Takeaway

While both occupational therapy and physical therapy are geared toward improving the patient’s quality of life, they often focus on different types of conditions and use different treatments. After reading “Occupational Therapy vs Physical Therapy: 3 Major Differences” we hope you feel more prepared when determining which treatment type is best for you.

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