Physical therapy and occupational therapy form an important pillar of complementary medicine that improves functional, muscular and structural stability in individuals; however, it is noteworthy that occupational therapy and physical therapy are entirely different and distinct tools of rehabilitation.
Physical therapy deals with improving the muscular and structural support of the tissues and tendons after an acute or chronic insult. The aim of physical therapy is to restore activity without affecting the normal healing process.
Occupational therapy deals with helping individuals in adapting to their injuries in order to maximize productivity and functional independence. An occupational therapist helps in optimizing the mobility with the help of equipments and devices after an injury that may lead to permanent disability. Occupational therapists also play a preventive role by guiding normal individuals to work with their bodies and not against their bodies that is a leading cause of aggravated wear and tear tissue damage and injuries.
Physical therapists utilize their vast knowledge of the human musculoskeletal system, anatomy and physiological functioning of muscles, joints and ligaments in order to restore mobility and full range of joint activity. At the same time, physical therapy exercises and maneuvers also decrease the risk of joint destruction and muscle injuries.
Occupational therapists help in enhancing coping skills in individuals after injuries. Occupational therapists work with family, relatives, friends and colleagues in order to make the transition less painful and more helpful for the recovering patient.
Physical therapist works soon after the injury in the initial recovery course after primary injury while the services of occupational therapists are generally needed in the rehabilitation course when the patient has fully recovered from the initial injury.
Provision of physical therapy may improve the situation and mobility of individuals. Physical therapists perform interventive therapies like massage, acupuncture, exercises and manual therapies to improve the functioning of the body.
Occupational therapy is performed when the patient has fully recovered and the sole purpose is to improve the quality of life by not letting the disability to affect the life of individuals. Occupational therapists modify the surroundings and the lifestyle mainly; instead of devising any treatment modalities.
Physical therapists mainly work with sports teams and athletes (since athletes are most vulnerable to musculoskeletal injuries and require the assistance of physical therapists most). In addition, physical therapists also work with surgical units, burn centers, nursing homes and trauma centers in order to attend to patients who are suffering from moderate to severe injuries involving joints (limb joints or spinal joints).
Occupational therapists are usually employed in rehabilitation centers to manage the patients who have suffered permanent damage and disabilities. Occupational therapists train patients to use special devices and equipment like hearing aids, walking aids, visual aids and other equipment that decrease the dependence on caregivers; thereby reduces economic and psychological dependence. Almost 48% of all occupational therapists work in the offices of speech and physical therapists (Bureau of Labor Statistics).
Physical therapists are mainly involved in the management of musculoskeletal stability while occupational therapists generally cover all aspects of a person’s life including social (by improving physical independence), psychological (by counseling), economic (by decreasing the caregiver dependence) and professional (by modification of work-environment or skill-set training).
Physical therapists require a Bachelors or Masters in Physical therapy followed by training in a physical therapy setting. Similarly in order to become an occupational therapist, individuals require a Bachelors or Masters in Occupational therapy; however no training or experience is generally needed in order to start the practice (according to the reports of Bureau of Labor Statistics).
At an average, there are almost twice as much job openings for physical therapists than occupational therapists (198,600 job openings in 2010 for physical therapists as compared to 108,800 job openings for occupational therapists).
To sum up, occupational therapy and physical therapy both constitute important tools of rehabilitation and recovery after moderate physical, musculoskeletal, vascular or neurological injuries. Although the primary functioning and aims of the therapies overlap significantly, it can be safely stated that in certain cases, individuals need both physical therapy and occupational therapy to obtain maximal benefits.