Wednesday, August 22, 2012

What is the Difference Between Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy?

Many people often ask the question, “What is the difference between Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy?”  Sometimes the lines between the two get crossed and become confusing to understand.  Occupational therapists (OT) and physical therapists (PT) both assist patients in regaining the ability to perform everyday functions to the best of their ability, independently and safely.  However, while OTs and PTs work together in various settings and often overlap, they also practice distinctly different therapy practices.  Occupational therapy takes on more of a holistic approach when treating patients by including physical, developmental, mental and emotional conditions, and uses these in conjunction in various treatments in order to develop, recover or maintain the occupation of living for their patients.  Occupational therapists focus on the "occupations" of self-care, work, and play/leisure activities to increase independence in daily living, enhance development, and prevent disability.   Occupational therapists work to restore, improve or compensate for medical conditions, injuries, or illnesses.  Areas of decreased function in things such as: eating, dressing, cognition, behavioral issues, bathing, etc. are the focus.

Physical therapy focuses on regaining movement or improving physical movement that has been or was lost due to an injury, illness or medical condition.  A physical therapist seeks to identify and maximize the quality of life through physical movement by focusing on prevention, intervention, and rehabilitation of the musculoskeletal system so that the body may function properly.  Physical therapists provide specific exercises, stretches and techniques and use specialized equipment to address problems in areas of decreased physical function.  Working with a physical therapist can target specific areas of muscle weakness and decreased muscle endurance.  They help to manage and relieve stress related to muscle pain due to injury or illness.  Below lists just some of the many examples of things that each discipline focuses on.

Occupational Therapy:
·        Fine-motor:
o   Manipulation of small items and handwriting.
·        Sensory integration:
o    Display of hyperactivity, anxiousness, clumsiness or increased sensitivity to various types of touch, oral stimulation, and various types of texture.
·        Visual Motor skills
·        Cognition
·        Attention Skills
·        Self-Care
·        ROM
·        Pain Management
·        Balance/Coordination
·        Oral Motor Control

Physical Therapy:
·        Balance/Coordination
·        Gross Motor Skills/Ambulation (walking, running, hopping, skipping, etc.)
·        Muscle Tone and Weakness
·        ROM
·        Pain Management
·        Postural Control
·        Orthopedics
·        Sports Injuries
·        Postoperative Surgeries

As you can see, although they are different in many ways each discipline still overlaps in some areas of focus and works as a co-treating team to increase achievement in patient goals.  Depending on the patient’s circumstances the patient may require only one of these disciplines or both and may also determine whether the patient can be seen as a co-treat or not.  I hope this article cleared up any misunderstandings about the two therapies you may have had.
Lauren Halbert, Student OTA
Lonestar College-Kingwood