Differences between Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy

Occupational therapy is a branch of medicine which uses different methods to help physically and mentally ill people to develop, maintain, and recover skills needed to function in day to day life, as well as in workplace environments.

Let us highlight the five types of occupational therapy.

  1. Children and Adolescents

This therapy is used for several purposes in children of all ages and adolescents, such therapists can be involved with schools and other teaching institutions and set up programs meant to prevent and reduce obesity in children.

For children of a pre-school age or for those who have just started attending school, this therapy can help with the development of hand writing skills.

  1. Mental Health

Mental ailments are responsible for a great number of disabilities and their treatment involves a multidisciplinary approach, which includes the use of this kind of therapy. These therapies has several purposes such as helping patients set up and maintain a schedule, helping them improve certain skills, involving them in the community, finding them employment, and aiding them with money management.

  1. Rehabilitation

It can also help a large number of patients who are disabled as a result of accidents or certain medical conditions (autism, Alzheimer’s). For people who have lost a limb, occupational therapy can teach them how to cope with the condition, how to handle a prosthetic device, and how to use their other limbs to maintain a good quality of life.

For people who have been left disabled after traumatic injuries to the brain or various other ailments, occupational therapy can help them regain some of their skills in order to help them better function within the community. Rehabilitation occupational therapy is also useful for people who have suffered accidents at their workplace and are trying to recuperate so as to be able to return to work.

  1. Health and Wellness

It is an important instrument used not only in recovery but also in preventing. This therapy can help with the prevention of various diseases and illnesses, the promotion of healthy lifestyles, improvement of factors that are beneficial to one’s health and well-being, and encouraging social participation.

  1. Elderly Care and Productive Aging

As people age, they find it increasingly harder to maintain their independence and to continue enjoying the activities they once did. Occupational therapy can be of aid for these people as well. Therapists can evaluate each patient and determine what changes they need to make in order to continue enjoying their independence.

Working as an Occupational Therapist has its good sides and bad sides and it is important to gain the right information before making occupational therapy your main profession. This guide will help you understand the role of an occupational therapist so you can make a decision before moving into the field.

According to occupational therapists, there exist a relationship between health, occupation, and well-being. Findings from studies over the years indicate that occupation has an important influence on health and well-being. Ranging from physiological to functional outcomes, it is clear that the performance in everyday occupations is an important part of everyday life. Withdrawal or changes in occupation for a person have a significant impact on a person’s self-perceived health and well-being.


Physical therapy involves the process of manipulating different body parts to decrease pain, improve mobility and function, and improve bodily strength to help the individual enjoy a better quality of life. Physical therapy not only helps people prevent injuries but also improve energy levels by staying physically fit.


A physical therapist is highly educated and licensed to help people achieve their health and fitness goals. For this reason, physical therapists are regarded as physicians who help you to treat an injury or illness. Essentially a physical therapist can help you to gain control over your health without the use of drugs.

The physical therapist will get to the root of the problem and then work with you on a treatment plan until your goals are achieved for overcoming the precise health problem. If there is a health issue that requires further attention then the physical therapist will refer you to the appropriate health professional. So, physical therapy involves a lot more than rehab therapy and can significantly help you to maintain a healthy lifestyle for the long term.


Some physical therapists go about their daily activities in hospitals or health centers while others are contractors who work independent of a facility. The kind of physical therapist you work with will greatly depend on what kind of injury or ailment you are addressing.

  1. Orthopedic Therapist

This type of therapists deals with injury or disease of the musculoskeletal system. With the use of physical therapy equipment, a therapist may retrain a client on the fundamentals of walking after multiple leg fractures or enable them to regain the use of their hands after invasive surgeries.

  1. Geriatric/Pediatric Therapist

Geriatric physical therapists work with the elderly while pediatric physical therapist works with babies and children. Both specialists are familiar with diseases that afflict their particular group and their training is geared to help target problems associated with those illnesses. For example, a pediatric therapist may help a child with a curvature of the spine to learn to walk with a brace while a geriatric therapist helps senior citizens cope with arthritis or aggravations from various replacement surgeries.

  1. Neurological Therapist

A neurological patient often relies on the expertise of a physic therapist in this field to combat issues associated with neurological damage. Brain or spinal cord injury and in born issues like MS or Parkinson’s are often dealt with by these specialists. Often these types of practitioners work with people who have been paralyzed and are unable to walk.

  1. Massage Therapist

Practitioners of this particular health discipline must keep massage therapy equipment current and up to date. More often than not, individual masseuses work as independent contractors and have to buy their own massage therapy supplies. Again, these individuals have to be fully licensed and board certified even if they are not affiliated with a specific center. A masseuse who works within a medical establishment will have access to state of the art massage therapy equipment, although they still may have to pay for a few of their own massage therapy supplies


  1. Physical therapy deals with improving the muscular and structural support of the tissues and tendons after an acute or chronic insult. The aim of physical therapy is to restore activity without affecting the normal healing process.

Occupational therapy deals with helping individuals in adapting to their injuries in order to maximize productivity and functional independence. An occupational therapist helps in optimizing the mobility with the help of equipment and devices after an injury that may lead to permanent disability. Occupational therapists also play a preventive role by guiding normal individuals to work with their bodies and not against their bodies that are a leading cause of aggravated wear and tear tissue damage and injuries.

  1. Physical therapists utilize their vast knowledge of the human musculoskeletal system, anatomy and physiological functioning of muscles, joints, and ligaments in order to restore mobility and a full range of joint activity. At the same time, physical therapy exercises and maneuvers also decrease the risk of joint destruction and muscle injuries.

Occupational therapists help in enhancing coping skills in individuals after injuries. Occupational therapists work with family, relatives, friends and colleagues in order to make the transition less painful and more helpful for the recovering patient.

  1. A physical therapist works soon after the injury in the initial recovery course after primary injury while the services of occupational therapists are generally needed in the rehabilitation course when the patient has fully recovered from the initial injury.

Provision of physical therapy may improve the situation and mobility of individuals. Physical therapists perform interceptive therapies like massage, acupuncture, exercises and manual therapies to improve the functioning of the body.

  1. Physical therapy and occupational therapy form an important pillar of complementary medicine that improves functional, muscular and structural stability in individuals; however, it is noteworthy that occupational therapy and physical therapy are entirely different and distinct tools of rehabilitation.

Occupational therapy is performed when the patient has fully recovered and the sole purpose is to improve the quality of life by not letting the disability to affect the lives of many individuals. Occupational therapists modify the surroundings and the lifestyle mainly; instead of devising any treatment modalities.

  1. Physical therapists mainly work with sports teams and athletes (since athletes are most vulnerable to musculoskeletal injuries and require the assistance of physical therapists most). In addition, physical therapists also work with surgical units, burn centers, nursing homes and trauma centers in order to attend to patients who are suffering from moderate to severe injuries involving joints (limb joints or spinal joints).

Occupational therapists are usually employed in rehabilitation centers to manage the patients who have suffered permanent damage and disabilities. Occupational therapists train patients to use special devices and equipment such as hearing aids, walking aids, visual aids and other equipment that decrease the dependence on caregivers; thereby reduces economic and psychological dependence. Almost 48% of all occupational therapists work in the offices of speech and physical therapists (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

6. Physical therapists are mainly involved in the management of musculoskeletal stability while occupational therapists generally cover all aspects of a person’s life including social (by improving physical independence), psychological (by counseling), economic (by decreasing the caregiver dependence) and professional (by modification of work-environment or skill-set training).

7. Physical therapists require a Bachelors or Masters in Physical therapy followed by training in a physical therapy setting. Similarly in order to become an occupational therapist, individuals require a Bachelors or Masters in Occupational therapy; however, no training or experience is generally needed in order to start the practice (according to the reports of Bureau of Labor Statistics).

At an average, there are almost twice as much job openings for physical therapists than occupational therapists (198,600 job openings in 2010 for physical therapists as compared to 108,800 job openings for occupational therapists).

To sum up, occupational therapy and physical therapy both constitute important tools for rehabilitation and recovery after moderate physical, musculoskeletal, vascular or neurological injuries. Although the primary functioning and aims of the therapies overlap significantly, it can be safely stated that in certain cases, individuals need both physical therapy and occupational therapy to obtain maximal benefits.


Our occupational Therapist,  Laura Visanko  has 23 years experience specializing in hands, treating post-operative and cumulative trauma. Please see her credentials below


Laura Visanko

Laura Visanko

M.O.T - Specializing in Hand Therapy

I graduated from Texas Woman's university with a Master's in Occupational Therapy. Subsequently pursuing a specialization in hands through mentoring with a hand physician and continuing education. I have 23 years experience specializing in hands, treating post-operative and cumulative trauma. Special interests include osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, providing patient education to improve quality of life and functionality as well as training amputee patients with multi-articulating myoelectric hands. Additionally, helping local musicians and artists to address hand mechanics,postural re-education, overall conditioning and activity modification to prevent repetitive stress injuries while pursuing their passions.

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