What is the Difference between Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy?

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Physical therapists and occupational therapists have much in common, but also a few differences. In this post, we will discuss the scope of practice of an Occupational Therapist (OT) and how occupational therapy may benefit you.

What Does an Occupational Therapist Do?
Occupational therapists are rehabilitation specialists that focus on helping patients achieve their highest level of functional ability in all aspects of life including; self-care, work, and recreational activities. Occupational therapy’s scope of practice includes providing skilled rehabilitation exercises to improve range of motion, strength and coordination while evaluating and modifying the environment or task to maximize patient performance. This holistic view of a patient’s performance allows occupational therapy to address a wide range of difficulties.

What Issues Do Occupational Therapists Treat?
Occupational therapists treat a wide variety of conditions. We will primarily discuss the treatment modalities offered at Vita.

  • Orthopedic Conditions: Injury to the shoulder, elbow, wrist and hand are a primary focus of treatment. Diagnoses include but are not limited to, shoulder pain and or impingement, rotator cuff injury, elbow pain (medial and/or lateral epicondylitis), carpal tunnel syndrome, and tendonitis of the thumb and/or fingers. Treatment strategies will include manual treatment and massage to swollen areas to reduce inflammation and decrease pain. Once tolerated, range of motion and strengthening exercises can begin to maximize your performance. If needed, splinting can be provided to aide in the healing process.
  • Balance Issues: A fairly large epidemiological study indicates that as many as 35% of adults aged 40 years or older in the United States have experienced some form of vestibular dysfunction1. The term vestibular dysfunction refers to impairment of the vestibular or balance system in the body. Symptoms such as dizziness, imbalance, double vision and difficulty concentrating often occur when the vestibular system is not working properly. Occupational therapy can address these limitations using specific exercises and activities to resolve symptoms. Treatment strategies vary widely and are based off of findings from clinical assessment.
  • Chronic Pain: Chronic pain is a concern for millions of adults nationwide and is defined as pain that lasts for more than 12 weeks. Often times persistent pain is perceived as “just being part of aging” however this is not the case. Chronic pain in nature, should be evaluated by your doctor as therapy can be very helpful to get you back to doing the things you enjoy. An occupational therapist will assess your limitations to identify the cause of the pain, and then provide interventions to decrease the pain. Manual treatments to decrease pain at trigger points, muscle stimulation and specific exercises for range of motion may be provided. Once pain has improved, strengthening exercises can begin to limit the chance of the pain recurring. If needed, task and environmental modifications can be provided to maximize your performance.
  • Pelvic Floor Dysfunction: Pelvic floor dysfunction is a term that refers to limited function in the muscles of the pelvic floor. These muscles are situated at the bottom of the pelvis and help to support the internal organs. In women, these muscles are at risk for dysfunction due to pregnancy, childbirth, and hormonal changes associated with aging. In fact, at least 1 out of 3 women experience symptoms of bladder leakage² that are associated with pelvic floor dysfunction and think they have to live with these symptoms, wearing pads to avoid embarrassment. Luckily, the pelvic floor can be rehabilitated and occupational therapists can provide specialized treatment to eliminate symptoms of bladder leakage.


How Do I Know if I Need Occupational Therapy?
If you experience any of the conditions or symptoms listed above, you may benefit from occupational therapy. You should talk to your doctor about your symptoms and if rehabilitation is needed, a prescription can be provided for occupational therapy.

How Do I Find an Occupational Therapist?
Vita offers occupational therapy services with convenient appointment times available. Occupational therapy is covered by most insurance companies and Vita is in network with most insurance carriers. We offer a complementary insurance coverage check prior to your initial visit

What Should I Expect at My First OT Appointment?
Your occupational therapist will provide a full assessment of your condition, including past medical history that may be relevant to your current condition. Depending upon your diagnosis, your occupational therapist will tailor the assessment to your specific needs. After the assessment is completed, your therapist will discuss your goals for treatment and design a customized plan to achieve those goals.

By: Colleen Baughn

¹Agrawal Y, Carey JP, Della Santina CC, Schubert MC, Minor LB. Disorders of balance and vestibular function in US adults. Arch Intern Med. 2009;169(10): 938-944. – See more at: http://vestibular.org/understanding-vestibular-disorder#sthash.I3S4ibTF.dpuf


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