What’s the Difference Between Occupational and Physical Therapy?

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While occupational therapy (OT) and physical therapy (PT) might both be familiar terms, many of us aren’t quite sure of the difference between the two.

The role of a physical therapist is to diagnose and manage movement dysfunction and enhance physical and functional abilities. Their goal is to restore, maintain and promote not only optimal physical function but optimal wellness, fitness and quality of life as it relates to movement and health. In addition, a physical therapist works with his or her patients to prevent the onset, symptoms and progression of impairments, functional limitations and disabilities that may result from diseases, disorders, conditions or injuries.

Occupational therapists, as their name suggests, focus on occupations. Occupations aren’t just jobs, however. They’re meaningful activities that patients do in daily life. The goal of an OT is to get their patients regain skills to complete these occupations, as well as help them modify their occupations to make them achievable.

Some areas of occupations that an OT might focus on during treatment could include activities of daily living, rest and sleep, work, play, leisure and social participation. Daily activities can consist of anything from driving to shopping, managing finances, meal preparation, home management and more.

An OT will help patients focus on getting back to work, if that’s the goal. They’ll look at workplace ergonomics, and help patients prepare for any pertinent life changes.

Sam Penkala, O.T.R.L., is an occupational therapist at MidMichigan Health. Those who would like to learn more about MidMichigan’s comprehensive rehabilitation services, including PT and OT, may visit www.midmichigan.org/rehab.

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