Knowing how to remain active and independent is important, especially if you have suffered an accident or injury. What’s more, understanding the difference between occupational therapy and physical therapy will tell you how best to accomplish this. Though the concepts are frequently conflated, they are not identical. When patients can accomplish daily tasks on their own, they are independent. When they can move without pain or injury, they are active. Doctors normally recommend occupational and physical therapy in order to reverse complications from an accident or illness. Deciding which is the proper approach depends on the extent of the patient’s motor skills.
Motor skills form as we explore the world during the early stages of childhood. They give us the ability to move our muscles in order to perform specific actions and, at their most basic, can be divided into two categories.
Unfortunately, whether due to age, injury, or illness, motor skills can degrade over time. When this happens, physical and occupational therapists step in to help re-build them.
What’s most important about the difference between occupational therapy and physical therapy is where they place their focus. Physical therapists concentrate on the cause of the infirmity, while occupational therapists concentrate on complications arising from it.
The goal of physical therapy is to restore mobility, ease pain, and prevent injury. To that end, therapists use a series of controlled exercises that improve:
Physical therapy is generally offered in a clinic or through a home health agency. Clinics offer a more intense recovery, but home health care agencies allow patients to build skills in a more practical environment.
Physical therapy can be demanding, especially for someone in recovery. But despite this, it often offers a safer, more effective route to health and happiness. In certain cases, it can resolve debilitating health problems without surgery or medication. Besides better mobility, patients who undergo physical therapy also experience:
Physical therapists work with patients one-on-one. They create individual exercise regimes that consider the patient’s abilities, health, and lifestyle. Each plan is geared toward the patient’s specific weaknesses, designed to get them back on their feet as quickly as possible.
Occupational therapy assists people who cannot participate in the activities of daily life (i.e., occupations) because of injury, illness, or disability. Unlike physical therapy, occupational therapy takes an indirect approach to health problems. Rather than seeking a cure, it helps people adapt by strengthening three central skills.
Many of the exercises they use are surprisingly ordinary, reflecting how often we rely on these skills in daily life. For example:
Despite the difference in focus between occupational therapy and physical therapy, the strength of fine motor skills depends on the strength of gross motor skills. Therefore, besides working on the skills above, occupational therapists also improve their patients’ strength, balance, and coordination using weights, stretches, and resistance bands. In some cases, they ask patients to practice everyday tasks with weights attached to their wrists and ankles.
Occupational therapy improves the lives of patients suffering from physical and mental impairments. Through exercise and lifestyle changes, therapists teach patients how to overcome limitations imposed by:
Regardless of their affliction, treatments are always tailored to the individual – how well they can move and what information their brain can process. Besides exercise, therapists might suggest new strategies for daily living, such as altering the patient’s routine or breaking chores up into smaller tasks. Therapists might also show patients how to use prosthetic devices or install safety equipment in their home. Or they may teach patients how to soothe symptoms with splinting, massage, or compression garments.
Regardless of which techniques are employed, the goal of occupational therapy is always the same – help patients care for themselves so they can once again participate in meaningful activities.
The difference between physical therapy and occupational therapy is what’s so effective about them. Each one offers a unique approach that provides a wider range of solutions to patients looking to remain active and independent.
At Parentis Health, physical and occupational therapists work together to improve quality of life. Whether you are in pain, struggling to walk, or need help with daily tasks, we find the therapy that is right for you.
Brooke McFerren is a Physical Therapist Assistant who works with older adults in Southern California. Through her personal approach to therapy, she has helped countless seniors remain strong, active, and independent during their advancing years.