Occupational Therapy vs. Physical Therapy—What’s the difference?

occupational-therapy-vs-physical-therapy-differencesIf you’ve been considering a career as an occupational therapy assistant, you’ve likely become familiar with other healthcare careers related to patient rehabilitation. The field of physical therapy, in particular, is often mentioned right alongside occupational therapy. While there are certainly many similarities between the two, they differ in the specifics of how they help patients address a disability.  For a quick refresher on the two fields, or even a simple way of explaining the differences to family and friends, the info below may help.

The Basic Difference between OT and PT

The easiest way to describe the difference between physical therapy and occupational therapy is that a physical therapist (or physical therapy assistant) treats the patient’s actual impairment, while an occupational therapist (or occupational therapy assistant) treats that impairment in action. The PT tries to improve the impairment itself by increasing mobility, aligning bones and joints or lessening pain. The OT or OTA helps the patient complete necessary everyday tasks with the impairment.  Doing so may involve applying new tools and techniques.

Breaking It Down

A physical therapist is a medical professional licensed to assess and treat impairments and functional limitations. PTs are qualified to recommend appropriate medical and assistive devices for patients (e.g., shower chairs, braces, walkers, canes, wheelchairs) or specific exercises. Educating the patient about his/her condition is also a vital part of the PT’s role.

An occupational therapist may also recommend adaptive equipment, such as reachers, dressing aids, special dishes and utensils, positioning splints, etc.  Both the OT and OTA ensure that the patient is equipped to handle regular work and household activities like dressing, cooking, bathing or writing.

In Action

Consider a patient recovering from knee replacement surgery. His PT would likely assign various exercises to improve mobility with the new artificial knee and to ease post-surgery pain and stiffness. His OT might teach him how to use a wheelchair in the early stages of recovery, then help him practice going up and down stairs on the new knee. Or, in a nursing home, the physical therapist may help a patient stand from a wheelchair and maintain standing balance, while the occupational therapist assists her in performing hygiene tasks at the sink. Often, PTs and OTs/OTAs collaborate closely to help the patient achieve a full recovery.

Interested in becoming an OTA in 16 months? St. Catherine offers the online OTA program in California and in Virginia. Contact us today to speak with an admissions advisor and get more information.

Categories: Accelerated Associates Degree, Alternative Nursing Jobs, Healthcare Career Options, OTA Field, OTA Online Program

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