What is the difference between Occupational Therapy (OT) and Physical Therapy (PT).
When you heard a term called “Occupational Therapy”, many people think that what is occupational therapy? And if they know it, they may ask “is it similar to physical therapy?’.
Many people confuse with the term occupational therapy and may consider it a branch of physical therapy. For some, both fields are interlinked and similar but reality is that both the fields are very much apart from each other.
Physical therapist treats patient’s actual impairment, while an occupational therapist treats that impairment in action.
Occupational Therapy (OT)–
Occupational therapy is a branch of rehabilitation science. Occupational therapist provides activities or tasks to engage the client, which help to restore, reinforce, and enhance occupational performance.
Occupational therapy is based on the belief that purposeful activities (occupation) may be used to prevent and mediate dysfunction.
Occupational therapy is more involved in the activities and functional purpose of a movement. The word occupation is defined as “an activity in which one engages”. The goal of an occupational therapy intervention is more towards the active engagement of the patient.
Physical Therapy (PT)–
Physical therapy is also a branch of rehabilitation science. Physical therapy profession is based on the established theoretical base and widespread clinical application in the prevention and restoration of optimal physical function.
The primary objectives of PT are to promote human health, wellness, and function. The profession of physical therapy is dedicated to providing quality and effective treatment for all.
Physical therapy is more involved to alleviate pain, swelling, stiffness and improvements in the strength and range of motion of a particular joint. Physical therapy uses many physical modalities like ultrasound, TENS, SWD etc., to decrease the pain and swelling and promote the healing process.
Job description of OT and PT–
Occupational therapist and physical therapist both works with the client and tries to improve their conditions. These both services come under the referral-based services.
Both therapists are responsible for utmost care/treatment for the client/patient.
Work Duties –
Physical therapist has to look more towards the pain, swelling, muscle or bone injury. The main responsibility of PT is to improve muscle strength, improve range of motion, and alleviate pain by using different equipment and physical agent modalities.
While occupational therapist has to look more towards the activities of daily living, work simplification or modification, leisure, social, emotional, perceptual/cognitive aspects of the client.
Occupational therapist uses functional activities to decrease physical and mental impairments.
In simple words, OT = Activities and PT = Exercise.
Pay Difference –
Payment of therapist may vary depending upon the therapy work settings, state and federal rules, and insurance policies.
According to the Indeed.com and bureau of labor statistics, an average entry-level physical therapist (PT) salary is around 75,000 to 80,000 USD. While an average entry level occupational therapist(OT) salary is around 70,000 to 75,000 USD.
But sometimes, recruiters are ready to pay more to OT than PT, because the demand is more and registered OT are less in number as compared to a physical therapist.
Both therapist (OT and PT) mainly works on similar work settings. Such as hospital, rehab center, schools, and more.
They work as a team in most of the settings. They collaborate, communicate and discuss their client’s issues with each other for better treatment strategies.
Primarily, PT practices in acute care like cardiovascular, orthopedic, and neurological diseases for facilitation of early ambulation. PT also works in outpatient rehab setup for developing other physical skills.
While, occupational therapist gets more jobs in pediatric, geriatric and mental health care. OT also works in acute care in inpatient rehab setup for providing early self-care activities.
Job growth –
Both the therapies are in good demand and growth can be expected in coming years. Internationally qualified OT/PT are also getting better opportunities in the USA because the need is growing day by day.
Master degree or doctorate degree (OTD or DPT) is a minimum requirement to appear the licensure examination (OTR for OT, and NPTE for PT). Both the therapist has to go through the extensive curriculum along with the field work. That means both therapists needs to be highly qualified. Further, they have to attend some continue education program to update themselves.
Occupational Therapy Vs Physical Therapy
It will be very difficult to explain the difference between occupational therapy and physical therapy without any example.
Let’s have an example of a patient with an elbow injury. Who has the limitation in joint range of motion and muscle strength and obviously on his functional daily living skills.
A role of Occupational Therapy – Focus of an occupational therapist would be more on patient’s functional daily living skills and occupational tasks. Goals of intervention will be, promoting self-eating, self-dressing and occupational tasks like writing, lifting or pushing activities. An OT will recommend him to move his elbow during eating/face cleaning. An OT more focus on the active range of motion by suggesting overhead activities and sand board activities. An OT may suggest him adaptive devices to assist with completing activities. An OT may help him for environmental modification according to the need of a patient.
A role of Physical Therapy– A PT will look forward to elbow pain and swelling. And make further plans for increase range of motion and muscle strength by passive exercises and stretching exercises. A PT may use physical modalities to decrease pain and swelling.
Overlapping practice areas–
These both fields are having much difference in theories, approaches, and goals. But, there are lots of similarities or overlap of both professions. OT and PT are both involved in the educating people about how to prevent and avoid injuries. Many times, an OT would suggest activities and exercises to improve range and strength. While many times, a PT would suggest how to involve in daily living activities.
The most common neurological approaches like NDT and SI now can be learned by an OT or PT and can practice accordingly. The NDT and SI trainer support both the therapist and consider them an eligible candidate to learn these skills. So, after the successful completion of courses, occupational therapist can practice NDT like physical therapist. Similarly, the physical therapist can practice sensory integration after completing the course.
Hand therapy is also one branch practiced by the both therapists. They have to pass the examination to become certified hand therapist.
Primarily, physical therapist uses physical agent modalities (Ultrasound, SWD) as a part of their treatment. But nowadays, occupational therapist also uses physical agent modalities (PAM) as an adjunct to occupational therapy. That means OT can use PAM in preparation for purposeful activity to enhance occupational performance.
These all similarities are because of the similar education pattern. Both have extensive knowledge of Anatomy, physiology, psychology, therapeutic media, activities and exercises.
Occupational therapy and physical therapy are two different branches of rehabilitation science. Both work together as a team. Both professions have some difference and some similarities.
Braden Bills says
My son broke his leg while playing soccer, so we want to make sure that he recovers properly. It seems like we would want to take him to a physical therapist for this. That seems like a good way to ensure that his injury gets recovered as quickly as possible.