Occupational Therapy Vs. Physical Therapy: What are the Differences?

Occupational Therapy Vs. Physical Therapy:  What are the Differences? image

Occupational Therapy Vs. Physical Therapy: What are the Differences?

Occupational therapy and physical therapy are different, but related types of rehabilitation services necessary at all age groups for different reasons. Those who work in this field work to help individuals  regain proper function of nerve, muscle and bone disorders of all types. Often times, disease or disability causes the need for a specialist to work hand-in-hand with patients to aid them in overcoming lost motor functions. While both fields focus on recovery, they are different in their scope.

Occupational therapy

An occupational therapy assistant, or OTA, works with patients facing impairment or limitations to functional movement with the goal of improving the individual's ability to complete Activities of Daily Living, or ADLs. This includes regaining the ability to dress, bathe, toilet, cook and perform other self-care tasks, including cooking and some cleaning. An OTA or AOTA works to help individuals improve their range of motion as much as possible to increase independency as much as possible. Some occupational therapist assistant jobs also center around helping children with disabilities.

In general, occupational therapists work with patients on upper body manual therapies such as therapeutic exercises, hand strengthening and stretching. There are various specialties in this field including geriatrics, orthopedics, hand therapy, mental health therapy and pediatrics.

Physical therapy

Physical therapy focuses on improving movement of the human body. Those that work in this field, called physical therapists or physical therapist assistants, work with people from all age groups and with a wide range of limitations including both physical and functional. Often times, these limitations stem from an accident or medical condition. The goal of these professionals is to establish a plan of treatment that promotes pain reduction, promotes movement, prevents disability and works to increase overall functional ability of the individual.

The PT or PTA will work with patients on restoring and strengthening large muscle groups that often focus on mobility, standing, balance and physical activity. There are numerous specialties in physical therapy including orthopedics, wound care, cardiac rehabilitation, geriatrics, pediatrics and women's health.

OTA and PTA Career Outlook

The demand for occupational therapists and physical therapists is on the rise. These individuals work in fields such as private clinics and doctors’ offices, but also in hospitals, home health services and in solo practices. For those hoping to become an occupational therapist assistant or physical therapist assistant, it is often required to obtain an Associate degree in the specific area of study. Both career paths can be very rewarding.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the demand for physical therapy assistants will grow 41 percent from 2014 through 2024. The demand for occupational therapy assistants will grow by 43 percent by 2022. Individuals in both fields will work with patients to improve their current skills based on the limitations they have. Customized plans are often created by licensed occupational therapists or physical therapists and carried out by assistants.

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