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Physiotherapist vs. Occupational Therapist: What’s the Difference?

Armin Ghayyur

Armin Ghayyur

The physical effects of COVID on the body have led to an increased need for physiotherapy.

Even those who haven’t had COVID find themselves in need of physical therapy. The move to remote working created sedentary lifestyles that suffer from a lack of movement.

Yet, how do you know if you need help from a physiotherapist or an occupational therapist? How is their work similar, and how is it different? Which one should you choose?

Read on to learn the difference between a physiotherapist and an occupational therapist.

What Is a Physiotherapist?

Physical therapy is often considered a form of rehabilitation following injury or illness.

See a physiotherapist if something stops you from moving or hinders your range of motion. That could include improving your mobility following an injury or surgery.

You may also see a physiotherapist for joint conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. They can also help with general pain management.

Physiotherapy can also help with physical conditions, such as cystic fibrosis or Parkinson’s disease.

The physiotherapist will help you restore or improve movement and motion range. Physiotherapy is also designed to stop a condition from becoming worse.

Your physiotherapist might give you stretches or exercises to do on a daily basis. They can also perform hands-on massage or manipulation of specific areas. Other techniques include ultrasound and electrical stimulation.

What Is an Occupational Therapist?

Occupational therapists can help you improve your ability to carry out everyday tasks. Their work helps people become more independent, or to help them live their life the way they want to.

See an occupational therapist if a condition stops you from doing daily tasks. These include physical conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, and neurological conditions, like cerebral palsy.

Occupational therapy can help patients with development conditions like autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It even helps with psychological conditions like anxiety. Beyond these, occupational therapy is also used for injury recovery and pain management.

Your occupational therapist will design a specific therapy plan for you. They base this on your medical history and individual needs. Part of the therapy involves exercises to manage pain or improve flexibility.

Other uses for occupational therapy include relearning how to do everyday tasks. They can also teach you how to use devices like wheelchairs. Occupational therapy can also help teach ways to get in and out of a shower or move around your kitchen.

Occupational therapists can also teach your loved ones how to support you with your movement goals.

What Are the Similarities?

Both types of therapy involve hands-on work. It’s designed to fit each individual patient. There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach in either therapy.

They’re both used to help improve your quality of life and your range of movement. While they target your physical health, they also improve your general well-being.

Whichever therapy you follow, you’ll set goals and work through a program to hit them. Your therapist will check how you’re doing on a regular basis. They can tweak your plan based on your progress.

There’s also some level of overlap between them. Both therapies can teach exercises to help specific parts of the body. Meanwhile, both therapies can also improve how you tackle daily activities.

What Are the Differences?

Physical therapy is designed to help you improve your mobility and movement. You’ll do stretches and exercises.

It’s often used to help someone recover from surgery, such as a hip or knee replacement. Here, the goal of physical therapy is to strengthen the joint and increase its motion range.

You’ll normally see a physiotherapist in their clinic or another outpatient setting. This gives you access to a wider range of specialist equipment.

Yet occupational therapy focuses on improving your ability to carry out everyday tasks. It often works to improve your motor skills.

Here, the therapist focuses on recovery from something that impacts the whole body. This could be a recovery from a stroke, so the patient can relearn how to dress themselves or use handheld items.

An occupational therapist will visit your home to assess changes to make it easier to carry out tasks. That might include adding a grab-rail to a bath, for example.

Physiotherapy largely treats physical recovery for specific body parts following injury or surgery. Occupational therapy works at improving your whole body abilities after an illness.

Why Are Both Types of Therapy Important?

They’re both very important types of therapy. One is not better than the other. Instead, you should choose the therapy based on your needs and your condition.

For example, you may have a frozen shoulder. A physiotherapist can help you reduce everyday pain. They’ll also give you exercises to help improve the mobility of the joint.

Physical therapy works on specific body parts. It’s a good choice for conditions that cause pain in those areas.

Yet if you have had a heart attack and find it hard to carry out everyday tasks, like writing or getting dressed? An occupational therapist would be a better choice. They can help you work on the fine motor skills you need to rebuild.

There are some conditions where you may need both professionals. For example, a physiotherapist can help stroke patients rebuild their movement in parts of their bodies. An occupational therapist would help them tackle activities made difficult by the stroke, such as writing.

Where there is a crossover between the therapies, speak to a professional who can advise you on which one is right for you.

Choose the Right Therapy for You

Now you know the differences between a physiotherapist and an occupational therapist. There is crossover since they may use similar approaches and work on the same conditions.

Yet overall, physiotherapy seeks to improve your strength, movement, and motion range. Occupational therapy works to improve the motor skills that you need in everyday life.

Choose the therapy that best suits your condition and your movement goals. If you’d like to discuss your needs, request a callback on our website. We can assess your individual situation and recommend the best therapy for you.

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