The Difference Between Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy

Occupational and physical therapy are two major forms of rehabilitation that help individuals gain or recover their movement and mobility. One common misconception, however, is that the two of these are interchangeable. While they both provide similar functionality of care, they are vastly different in their specializations.

Occupational Therapy

Fran Sauer, MA CCC-SLP
Fran Sauer, MA CCC-SLP

As the name suggests, occupational therapy pertains to the recovery of meaningful activities and mobility utilized in everyday life. Individuals seeking occupational therapy are most often needing assistance with managing self-care needs and functional mobility. Therapists assist with providing information and resources to help patients live better independently and return to their desired activities in a safe manner. Whether patients are returning to work or managing their household tasks, it is the occupational therapist’s job to work with them despite their limitations or impairments both cognitively and physically.

“Occupational therapy is the only profession that looks at the person’s life as a whole and helps them to return to the activities that really matter,” notes Fran Sauer, MA CCC-SLP, manager of Inpatient Rehabilitation Services at Saint Francis Healthcare System.

Due to the specialization of occupational therapy, this treatment promotes return to health and wellbeing through physical activity and functional cognitive tasks.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is utilized to advance the ability to move, reduce pain, restore function and prevent disability among individuals. One common misconception is that physical therapy is most often recommended to treat patients recovering from an orthopedic surgery or limb injury; however, there are a range of reasons behind the demand for physical therapy.

Ryan Bandermann, MPT, CEAS
Ryan Bandermann, MPT, CEAS

“Movement can be impacted by many things, including surgery, pain or injury. A huge part of physical therapy is simply restoring normal movement,” says Ryan Bandermann, MPT, manager of Outpatient Rehabilitation Services at Saint Francis.

Bandermann explains that, although many patients are seen for these reasons, the conditions that physical therapists treat are vast.

“We tend to see a great amount of patients for movement dysfunction related to vertigo or vestibular dysfunction, pain or mobility issues in the urinary, digestive or reproductive systems and movement dysfunction or pain related to an excess of fluid (lymphedema/edema management), among others.”

Physical therapy can be administered through forms of exercise, joint mobilizations, scar tissue massages or passive stretches.

For more information on the occupational and physical therapy services provided at Saint Francis, visit our Orthopedic Institute page.