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The Difference Between Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy
Physical therapy and occupational therapy form an important pillar of complementary medicine that improves functional, muscular and structural stability in individuals; however, it should be noted that occupational therapy and physical therapy are entirely different and distinct rehabilitation tools.
Physiotherapy aims to improve the muscular and structural support of tissues and tendons after an acute or chronic attack. The goal of physiotherapy is to restore activity without affecting the normal healing process.
Occupational therapy aims to help individuals adapt to their injuries in order to maximize their productivity and functional independence. An occupational therapist helps optimize mobility using equipment and devices after an injury that can lead to permanent disability. Occupational therapists also play a preventative role by guiding normal individuals to work with their bodies and not against their bodies, which is one of the main causes of aggravated wear and tear, tissue damage and injury.
Physiotherapists use their extensive knowledge of the human musculoskeletal system, anatomy, and physiological functioning of muscles, joints, and ligaments to restore mobility and the full range of joint activity. At the same time, physiotherapy exercises and maneuvers also decrease the risk of joint destruction and muscle injury.
Occupational therapists help improve people’s coping skills after injuries. Occupational therapists work with family, relatives, friends and co-workers to make the transition less painful and more helpful for the recovering patient.
The physical therapist works soon after the injury in the initial recovery course after a primary injury, while the services of occupational therapists are usually needed in the rehabilitation course when the patient has fully recovered from the initial injury.
The provision of physiotherapy can improve the condition and mobility of individuals. Physiotherapists perform interventional 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 affect the lives of individuals. Occupational therapists primarily modify the environment and lifestyle; instead of designing treatment modalities.
Physiotherapists primarily work with sports teams and athletes (as athletes are the most vulnerable to musculoskeletal injuries and require the most help from physiotherapists). In addition, physiotherapists also work with surgical units, burn centers, nursing homes, and trauma centers to care for patients with moderate to severe injuries involving joints (limb joints or spinal joints vertebral).
Occupational therapists are generally employed in rehabilitation centers to manage patients who have suffered permanent damage and disabilities. Occupational therapists train patients to use special devices and equipment such as hearing aids, walking aids, visual aids, and other equipment that reduces dependency on caregivers; thus reduces economic and psychological dependence. Nearly 48% of all occupational therapists work in the offices of speech-language pathologists and physical therapists (Bureau of Labor Statistics).
Physical therapists are primarily involved in managing musculoskeletal stability while occupational therapists generally cover all aspects of a person’s life, including social (enhancing physical independence), psychological (counselling), economic (by decreasing caregiver dependency) and vocational (by changing workplace or skills training).
Physical therapists need a bachelor’s or master’s degree in physical therapy followed by training in a physical therapy setting. Similarly, to become an occupational therapist, individuals must have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in occupational therapy; however, no training or experience is usually required to begin practice (according to Bureau of Labor Statistics reports).
On average, there are almost twice as many job vacancies for physiotherapists as there are for occupational therapists (198,600 job vacancies in 2010 for physiotherapists versus 108,800 job vacancies for occupational therapists).
In summary, both occupational therapy and physiotherapy are important tools for rehabilitation and recovery from moderate physical, musculoskeletal, vascular, or neurological injuries. Although the primary functioning and goals of the therapies overlap significantly, it is safe to say that in some cases individuals require both physiotherapy and occupational therapy to achieve maximum benefits.
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