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Occupation Therapy vs. Physical Therapy: Which Treatment is Right for You?

Occupational therapy vs. physical therapy
Physical therapy can help improve your range of motion.

Suppose you’re a patient recovering from an injury or disorder that impacts how you move. In that case, you can work with an occupational therapist or physical therapist to target specific muscle groups and develop your strength. Both occupational therapy and physical therapy are types of rehabilitative care. Occupational and physical therapists have different skill sets, so it’s essential to understand what each therapy provides and how to choose what type of treatment is best for you.

What is Occupational Therapy (OT)?

Occupational therapy is a rehabilitative therapy focused on daily tasks you perform to lead a fulfilling and independent life. An OT works with people of all ages suffering from neurological disorders or injuries that impact their fine motor skills. Some people may assume that occupational therapy is related to a person’s occupation, but it has a broader range of purposes than the name suggests. Here are some basic skills an OT can help you master:

  • Fine motor skills: Fine motor skills refer to your ability to move in small precise ways, like moving your hands or wrists. These skills are essential for many daily activities, like typing or holding utensils.
  • Hand-eye coordination: Hand-eye coordination refers to your ability to process information received through your eyes and direct the movements of your hands. You may have heard this term in relation to playing sports.
  • Basic life tasks: Many basic life tasks like eating, bathing, and walking are the subject of a patient’s treatment with an occupational therapist especially after a neurological disorder diagnosis or post traumatic brain injury.
  • Regulating emotions: Children or individuals with behavioral disorders may seek treatment from an OT to learn to regulate their emotions so they can function in social situations effectively.

Occupational therapists are held to standards set by their states. In New York, licensed OTs are required to have a degree in occupational therapy or a certificate from an institution accredited by the New York State Education Department. OTs also pass an exam by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy or NBCOT. This certification allows the therapist to practice with a license and ensures that all practitioners are held to the same standard of excellence in care.

What is Physical Therapy (PT)?

A physical therapist is a medical professional who works with patients on their movement, strength, and range of motion. A physical therapist focuses on the patient’s overall fitness instead of focusing on performing daily tasks. PT may be necessary to rehabilitate injuries or recover from a traumatic event like surgery or stroke. Patients may also seek PT treatment to prevent neurological conditions or nerve damage from progressing.

Some patients turn to physical therapy to avoid surgery or limit their pain medication. Physical therapy can teach them how to take care of their bodies to prevent overuse that leads to injury. For example, if you suffer from knee pain, physical therapy can help you learn stretches and exercises that strengthen your knee joint and provide pain relief. You can also reduce inflammation to protect your joints and prevent further injury. Here are some techniques a physical therapist may use in treatment:

  • Targeted exercises: A physical therapist can develop a specific workout plan. They work with the patient to ensure their form is correct and that they are making the desired progress.
  • Stretching instruction: Physical therapists can teach patients stretches and movements they can use to release tension around their injuries and prevent muscle strain.  
  • Massage: Physical therapists are educated in massage techniques that they use to relieve tension and reduce inflammation that can worsen injuries. They may use massage and hands-on muscle manipulation to improve a patient’s range of motion and comfort.
  • Electrical stimulation: Electrical stimulation, or e-stim, is a painless procedure that can accelerate recovery and provide pain relief for some patients.

In New York, Physical therapists are required to have a postgraduate professional degree and pass the National Physical Therapy Examination administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. These qualifications ensure that physical therapists have the proper education and meet the standard of excellence in New York State. During their studies, they may learn to specialize in one of the following fields:

  • Cardiovascular and Pulmonary disease
  • Electrophysiology
  • Geriatric care
  • Neurologic conditions
  • Orthopedics
  • Pediatrics
  • Sports medicine
  • Women’s Health

What type of therapy is right for you?

As a patient, it can be confusing to know what type of therapy is best for you. Consult with your primary care physician to understand how occupational and physical therapy can help you manage pain or improve your quality of life. Both treatments can help you recover from an injury and manage your pain. However, understanding what these therapies focus on can help you make an informed decision. You can keep in mind that occupational therapy is for daily tasks and motor skills, while physical therapy is for overall fitness and movement. For example, Occupational therapy can be effective in treating the following conditions:

  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Stroke recovery
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Trigger finger
  • Developmental conditions like autism spectrum disorder
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Dementia
  • Alzheimer’s

Physical therapy focuses on anatomic injuries and can be effective in the treatment of the following conditions:

  • Arthritis
  • Spondylitis
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Osgood-Schlatter disease
  • Patellar tendonitis
  • IT band injury
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Stroke recovery
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Cystic Fibrosis
  • Heart Failure
  • Heart attack recovery
  • Cancer

At Living Well Balanced, we offer both types of therapy with compassionate and qualified professionals who can help you manage pain and increase your mobility and fitness. You can make an appointment with one of our physical or occupational therapists to find out how they can help. If you have any questions, you can always give us a call at 212-579-2858 or send an email at info@livingwb.com. Check out our blog for more information about rehabilitative therapies.

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