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Physical Therapy vs. Occupational Therapy

Physical Therapy vs Occupational Therapy. Both are rehabilitative medical services, but where are they the same and where do they differ?

What comes into play when comparing physical therapy vs. occupational therapy? Although both physical therapy (PT) and occupational therapy (OT) are rehabilitative medical services and they do share some similarities, there are different approaches within each. There are also different reasons why your doctor may recommend them as part of your treatment plan. 

The main difference between physical therapy and occupational therapy is that the aim of physical therapy is to improve your ability to regain movement in your body, whereas occupational therapy focuses on increasing your ability to perform routine daily activities. Your doctor may recommend physical therapy or occupational therapy if you are suffering from certain illnesses, if you have suffered an injury, or if you have recently undergone surgery.

Physical Therapy: What Is It and When Do You Need It?

what is physical therapy and how is it different from occupational therapy?

If your doctor recommends physical therapy (PT), you can have your appointments in an outpatient clinic, a hospital or nursing home, or in some cases, in your own home. The overall focal points of PT include:

  • Restoration: Regaining and improving muscle strength, body movement, and range of motion. 
  • Pain management: PT can help to relieve pain and promote healing in damaged tissue. It can also prevent your condition from worsening.
  • Patient education: A physical therapist will help you learn ways to improve and maintain your overall physical fitness. 

When you Might Need Physical Therapy vs. Occupational Therapy

Your doctor may recommend physical therapy vs occupational therapy if you are experiencing a condition that is impeding your movement.

For example:

  • Following an injury: If you have damaged a muscle, tendon, or ligament, PT can help to improve your range of motion and decrease pain.
  • Following surgery: If you have recently had a procedure, such as joint replacement, or spinal surgery, PT can help you regain movement and reduce pain.
  • For a joint condition: If you have a condition such as rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis, PT can help you to improve movement and reduce pain in the joint. 
  • For a neurological condition: PT can help with recovery after a stroke, it can also help with debilitating conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.
  • For a heart condition: PT can help you recover from a heart attack or heart failure. 
  • For a lung condition: PT can help you manage symptoms of lung conditions such as cystic fibrosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

What Can you Expect from Physical Therapy?

what can you expect from physical therapy

After reviewing your medical history and current health, your physical therapist will design a PT program to suit your individual needs. Your PT plan may include:

  • Stretching
  • Targeted exercises
  • Massage or gentle manipulation
  • Application of heat or cold therapy
  • Electrical stimulation
  • Ultrasound therapy

Occupational Therapy: What Is It and When Do You Need It?

occupational therapy helps people with daily activities

If your physician recommends occupational therapy (OT), you can meet with your occupational therapist in an outpatient clinic, an inpatient facility such as a nursing home or hospital, a mental health facility, and, in some cases, in your own home. The aims of OT are to:

  • Improve your ability: Your occupational therapist will help you to perform daily activities safely and effectively. 
  • Promote independence: By improving your mobility, occupational therapy allows you to retain your independence around the home.
  • Educating caregivers: Occupational therapists can help caregivers understand and help someone who is undergoing OT.

When you Might Need Occupational Therapy vs. Physical Therapy

Your doctor may recommend occupational therapy vs physical therapy to help with:

  • Recovery from an injury
  • Pain management
  • Recovery from a stroke
  • Multiple sclerosis or cerebral palsy
  • Joint conditions
  • Developmental conditions
  • Poor balance
  • Poor vision
  • Diabetes
  • Severe burns
  • Alzheimer’s or dementia

What You Can Expect From Occupational Therapy vs Physical Therapy

After reviewing your medical history and current health, your occupational therapist will develop a strategy and set goals for your rehabilitation. Your OT may include:

  • Helping you to relearn daily tasks such as bathing and getting dressed.
  • Assessing your home to find ways of making your daily tasks more manageable.
  • Helping you learn how to use assistive devices such as walkers or wheelchairs.
  • Aiding you with tasks that use fine motor skills such as buttoning clothes and writing.
  • Teaching your exercises to help reduce pain and increase flexibility.
  • Teaching your stress management techniques. 

Does Medicare Pay for Physical Therapy or Occupational Therapy?

In order for Medicare to pay for your physical therapy or occupational therapy, it must be confirmed by your doctor that it is medically necessary. Typically, you will visit an outpatient facility for your therapy, but if you are older or you are homebound, Medicare may cover home therapy. 

The amount of therapy that Medicare will cover is determined not by a specific number of visits, but by the total cost of the treatment. As with other services covered by Medicare, you will make a copayment of 20% for each PT or OT session. There is also a cap to how much you can spend each year on physical therapy and occupational therapy for it to be covered by Medicare. Participating in PT or OT after injury, illness, or surgery can greatly improve your healing and rehabilitation. They can also reduce your risk of readmission to the hospital and help you maintain your independence around your home.  

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