Physical Therapy vs. Occupational Therapy – What’s the Difference? (2021 Update)

Originally Published: June 2, 2017

Many people are curious about the relationship between Occupational Therapy (OT) and Physical Therapy (PT). There is often confusion about these two professions and some even think that the two are synonymous.

There are significant differences between the two professions, and there are also many gray areas where the two overlap. At SportsCare Physical Therapy Centers, we offer both forms of treatment, in a number of facilities (Click here to see.)

Physical Therapy (PT):

PT is therapy for the preservation, enhancement, or restoration of movement and physical function impaired or threatened by disease, injury, or disability that utilizes therapeutic exercise, physical modalities (such as massage and electrotherapy), assistive devices, and patient education and training. PT helps alleviate pain, and maximize function in order to help patients return to their activity level prior to their injury, pain or discomfort.

PT also tends to be more focused on evaluating and diagnosing movement dysfunctions in one’s body, as well as treating a person’s injury itself. While an occupational therapist will often also do diagnosis, the physical therapist will be more likely to diagnose and treat the physical source of the problem; the injured tissues and structures. Click here to see what the range of diagnoses we can treat through Physical Therapy at SportsCare.

Occupational Therapy (OT):

As compared to PT, OT is a form of therapy based on engagement in meaningful activities of daily life (such as self-care skills, education, work, or social interaction) especially to enable or encourage participation in such activities despite impairments or limitations in physical or mental functioning that encourages rehabilitation through everyday activities of daily living (ADL).

An Occupational Therapist often works with the hands, and upper extremities, and does not directly treat a person’s injury using techniques such as manual therapy or acupuncture, like a Physical Therapist would, but more commonly helps a person optimize their independence and their ability to accomplish their daily activities following an injury or in situations of physical impairment (disability). Click here to see how SportsCare can help you through OT treatment.

PT & OT Overlap:

Although the two health care professions have differences in their focus there is a good amount of crossover between OT and PT. For example, an OT is often involved in educating people on how to prevent and avoid injuries, as well as educating people about the healing process, just like a PT. Physical Therapist’s in turn, often help people improve their ability to do their daily activities through education and training.

Hand therapy can be performed by either a PT or an OT, as either discipline is eligible to sit for the Certified Hand Therapist (CHT) exam. This concept that hand therapy & occupational therapy are synonymous has mostly to do with the fact that currently ~86% of CHTs are OTs. However, many of the concepts and treatments in outpatient hand therapy are indistinguishable between who is performing them. Patients can find a CHT either through the American Society of Hand Therapists, or the Hand Therapy Certification Commission.

While there is this crossover between professions both play very important roles and are specialized in their areas of expertise. In many situations, both types of health-care professional are involved in injury recovery. Both PT’s and OT’s, are trained extensively in anatomy and the musculoskeletal system. This results in both Physical and Occupational Therapists being very knowledgeable about musculoskeletal injuries and rehabilitation.

If you feel you may benefit from either Physical or Occupational Therapy, feel free to contact us to make an appointment. Don’t know where we are? NO PROBLEM! You can either check out our website and enter your Zip Code to find the closest location, or you can text your Zip Code to 1-844-700-0013 to find your nearest SportsCare facility. We look forward to treating you.

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