The main difference between physical therapy and occupational therapy is that physical therapy focuses on evaluating and diagnosing injury and dysfunction with the goal of restoring, maintaining and optimizing mobility, function and well-being; while occupational therapy is concerned with helping people achieve daily activities at work, home and leisure like eating, grooming, and toileting.
Physiotherapists may use hands on manual techniques, therapeutic exercise, education, heat, cold, light, water, massage, acupuncture and other modalities to enhance and restore the function of multiple body systems.
Occupational therapists may assess a person’s home or work space and recommend equipment or modification to improve daily living and working. They may also address cognitive function and mental health and wellness.
In many settings, the roles of these two therapists overlap making these distinctions less clear to the average healthcare consumer. The truth is these two occupations can complement each other in treating a wide range of clinical impairments to optimize a person’s rehabilitation.
PT & OT Approach to Motor Vehicle Accident Recovery
Susan* had been in a motor vehicle accident a few months prior to seeing me as her physiotherapist. She had suffered a whiplash injury as well as soft tissue injuries to her lower leg and shoulder.
Physical therapy helped to address these issues through manual therapy, modalities such as ultrasound, acupuncture and exercise. Massage therapists and exercise therapists were also part of her integrated rehab team.
Despite our efforts, not all of Susan’s symptoms went away. In fact, she had increasing reports of trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating and trouble with day-to-day tasks. After reviewing her file again to look for new strategies, I realized that occupational therapy had never been recommended.
I immediately contacted an occupational therapy colleague and discussed the file. The OT was able to immediately meet the client in her home and discuss her goals and challenges. The therapist was able to address such issues such as sleep hygiene, organization, housekeeping tasks, and thinking skills.
Occupational therapists provide a significant impact in getting a client back to their daily activities, and they complement the work of physical therapists. By addressing a client’s motivation, organization and sleep, OT’s are indirectly helping a client manage and attend fully to their other therapies.
When someone has an illness or injury, negotiating a host of health care providers can be daunting. Working with an experienced therapist with an integrated approach to healthcare can help provide a holistic view of a client’s life.
At Propel Physiotherapy, we recognize the need and value of adding the occupational therapist early in a client’s rehab journey. We are fortunate to share a rehabilitation space with OTs from Complex Injury Rehab at our Pickering clinic location. It has given our shared clients the benefit of a two-pronged cccupational/physical therapy approach to treatment with an emphasis on their goals, abilities, values, culture and advocacy.
The role of physiotherapists and occupational therapists are often overlapping. However, both provide distinct and vital components in a client’s recovery. It is impossible to separate the effects of emotional, cognitive and physical impairments on a person’s well-being. It is crucial to view and treat the whole individual. Rather than focus on the difference between physical therapy and occupational therapy, it is more important to highlight that both are key players in treating the wide range of clinical impairments while on their client’s journey to recovery.
*name changed to protect client privacy
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