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Occupational therapy and physiotherapy: What's the difference?

September 14, 2020

Two key disciplines involved in Runnymede Healthcare Centre’s rehabilitation programs are occupational therapy (OT) and physiotherapy (PT). If you’ve ever wondered what these healthcare professionals do to support patient care, read on to discover the ways they’re distinct, and how their combined efforts make patient recovery possible.

Ultimately, occupational therapists (OTs) and physiotherapists (PTs) work to achieve the same thing: help patients safely regain their abilities so they can resume independence after an injury or surgery. How OTs and PTs go about realizing these patient-centred goals, however, is very different.

What do occupational therapists do?

  • OTs focus on helping patients perform activities that they need for independent living:
  • OTs look at patients’ level of functional ability and evaluate how it affects their day-to-day lives
  • OTs help patients perform activities of daily living (ADL) like cooking, dressing, bathing and personal care
  • OTs help patients adapt to mobility aids like wheelchairs, walkers and canes, and with supportive devices like bathroom equipment and bed rails

What do physiotherapists do?

  • PTs’ expertise is in mobility and exercise, especially when it comes to exercising with a chronic illness or injury:
  • PTs diagnose and treat physical injuries to patients’ muscles, bones and tendons
  • PTs use patient-centred exercise and training strategies to increase strength
  • PTs work to increase patients’ flexibility and range of motion so they can move without difficulty or pain

In addition to the above, an important function for both PTs and OTs is to deliver education to patients so they have the skills and knowledge they need to resume their lives safely after they’ve been discharged to the community.

Providing integrated care

Although the two disciplines are distinct from one another, the work they do is highly complementary. When a PT enhances a patient’s strength and flexibility, it then becomes possible for an OT to coach them on how to perform their activities of daily living.

Through close collaboration, OTs and PTs meet patient-centred treatment goals and are essential supports for Runnymede patients as they move along their path to independence.