If you are recovering from a surgery or an injury or if a health condition is getting in the way of your daily activities, you may be considering physical therapy, occupational therapy or both. So, what’s the difference between physical therapy and occupational therapy? To understand the differences it helps to understand what a Physical Therapist (PT) or Occupational Therapist (OT) actually does.
While PT’s and OT’s differ in their areas of focus, both play important roles in helping people heal from injuries, and recover strength and flexibility. Physical Therapists typically evaluate and treat patients who have injuries, birth defects, and medical conditions. Occupational Therapists address those same challenges and teach patients (and family members) how to become more independent in their everyday lives.
The PT may work on stretching muscles and improving mobility to reduce pain and stiffness or heal an injury. The OT helps people re-think or re-learn daily activities at work and in the home. Activities such as getting dressed, working in the kitchen and garden, bathing and job-related tasks may be taught. If you are recovering from a hip replacement for example, the PT would work with you to help you regain your strength and mobility and then teach you how to walk into the kitchen. The OT would teach you ways to easily do things in the kitchen.
In physical therapy, a patient who has had a hip replaced may be given exercises to help stand from a chair and maintain balance. In occupational therapy, the patient would be taught how to comfortably and safely perform tasks at the counter. New techniques, tools, and adaptive equipment to reduce the chance of falling, or the strain on that new hip would be shared. For example, instead of bending down to retrieve an object you’ve dropped on the floor, you may learn how to use a long handled reacher to retrieve it.
Often, occupational therapy concentrates on the upper body (hand, wrist, elbow, and shoulder) injuries and conditions. If you have hand pain or are recovering from a hand injury or surgery, the OT will work with you to help reduce the pain and swelling and will instruct you in exercises to help restore your hand and finger movement. Initial treatment like heat, ice, and ultrasound may be recommended, as well as exercises to improve your strength and flexibility.
Splints that help reduce the pain and swelling and promote healing may also be suggested. OT’s and some PT’s have additional training and certification as Hand Therapist’s. They have expertise in making custom hand splints to protect your hand or to help get your joints moving. The ultimate goal is to help get you back to being fully functional and independent.
PT’s and OT’s regularly work together to maximize a patient’s healing and help regain independence. Just as your medical team may include your internist who specializes in your general health, a cardiologist who specializes in your heart, and a rheumatologist who addresses your arthritis– Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy may be recommended together to address your physical strength, cognitive skills, coordination and the ability to regain and maintain a healthy, independent life.Like what you’ve read? Click here to subscribe to the blog!
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