Occupational Therapy Vs Physical Therapy: What’s The Difference?


Recovering your independence after an injury, illness, or surgery takes time – and a team of skilled professionals to help you through it. Two people that may be on your rehabilitation team are an occupational therapist and a physical therapist. While they both share the common goal of restoring your health and independence as quickly and safely as possible, they practice two distinct disciplines, with two different approaches to treatment.

What is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapists work with you to help you live your life to its fullest potential. They start by asking you to identify your goals: What’s most important to you? What are the tasks you’d like to accomplish and activities you’d like to participate in? These can range from simple daily chores, like brushing your teeth, to social interactions or beloved hobbies that bring you joy and fulfillment. Once your goals are defined, occupational therapists then evaluate your current environment, design intervention plans, and recommend adaptive strategies and equipment to help you reach them.

What is Physical Therapy?

While occupational therapy programs takes a holistic approach to treatment, physical therapy focuses specifically on the function and movement of the body. The goal of physical therapy programs is to ease pain, increase your range of motion, and prevent further impairment. Physical therapists will evaluate your current condition, then create a treatment plan consisting of exercises and stretches, as well as therapeutic modalities, such as massage or ultrasound, so you can regain full function of the afflicted area.

Occupational Therapy vs. Physical Therapy

Aside from these differing approaches, the biggest distinction between physical therapy and occupational therapy are the practitioners who treat you.

Physical therapists are licensed health professionals who’ve received specific graduate-level training. While some have a master’s degree and others have a PhD, all physical therapists must pass national certification exams and be licensed to practice by their individual states. With such extensive anatomy training, physical therapists are qualified to perform hands-on treatments and to develop fitness programs that will improve your physical condition.

Occupational therapists need to obtain a master’s degree and a state license, too, but additionally, they are required to complete specialized training related to emotional and behavioral health. This is because mental health is a crucial component of all occupational therapy; supporting patients through their emotional struggles is key to helping them overcome their frustration and achieve their goals.

How Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy Work Together

While there are significant differences between occupational and physical therapy, they both have the common objective of helping you to live a fulfilling and independent life. Many times, people can benefit from partaking in both physical therapy and occupational therapy programs simultaneously.

For example, a patient who’s had a stroke may work with a physical therapist to strengthen their muscles for standing and walking, as well as to improve their balance. But they may also need to work with an occupational therapist who can teach them to navigate the new difficulties involved with daily activities, such as bathing, dressing, or eating. Both occupational and physical therapists work together to create a comprehensive rehabilitation team.

Bella Vista Health Center offers occupational therapy and physical therapy

At Bella Vista Health Center, we understand how important it is to have the right rehabilitation team on your side. With some of the best physical therapy and occupational therapy San Diego has to offer, we can help you or your loved one regain their independence in a safe, comfortable environment. Our team of caring and compassionate therapists are here to support you through your recovery.

Call us at (619) 644-1000 to find out more about our short-term rehab services.