Physical Therapy Vs. Occupational Therapy—Which is Right for Your Loved One?
Physical therapy and occupational therapy are two common, yet very different forms of therapies that many seniors will rely on at some point in time. Whether they are recovering from a hospitalization or an injury, these two therapies are actually quite commonly prescribed as they can both help seniors become more mobile and get back on the road to recovery. While these two disciplines can often work together and have some overlapping similarities, they are actually quite different and it is important that seniors, and their caregivers understand the difference between these two therapies.
In basic terms, physical therapy focuses on helping people with general body movement, while occupational therapy focuses on helping patients with daily living activities such as eating, dressing, and bathing. In some situations, these two fields may overlap, but they are generally used in different situations. Here’s what to know about each of these disciplines.
A physical therapist is a health care professional who treats impairments through exercises. Their goals are to help improve circulation, strengthen muscles, increase mobility and align bones. They also work to decrease inflammation, pain and muscle spasms.
Physical therapy sessions, often rely heavily on exercises to help recondition, strengthen and stretch the muscles, but they also often include other therapies as well. This includes ultrasound, ice, heat, laser, electric muscle stimulation, massage, and even weight training.
Your loved one may see a general physical therapist or one with a specialty in geriatrics. There are other specialties as well including orthopedic and cardiopulmonary therapists.
When working with an occupational therapist, you are working with a health professional who focuses on helping people recover, develop or maintain their capacity to do everyday activities and skills. Occupational therapy sessions are more about hands-on rehab work that helps people learn or re-learn everyday skills from picking up objects, to getting in and out of bed or dressing.
Occupational therapists often have a more involved role in a patient’s recovery and not only work with a patient’s emotional, behavioral and cognitive challenges. An occupational therapist may also evaluate their patient’s home or work and help them find the equipment they need to improve their quality of life and ability to function.
While no one ever wants to end up in a situation where they need physical therapy or occupational therapy, it is important to have a better understanding of these two disciplines, should your loved one ever need this type of help. A basic rule of thumb is to consider physical therapy following an injury such as a broken arm or a knee replacement, and occupational therapy following a medical setback such as a stroke, where seniors may need to relearn a lot of skills and habits.
Both occupational therapists and physical therapists can work together to help seniors of all types get the care and attention that they need to recover from any physical setbacks and return to life as normal.
- Kimberly Langdon M.D. is a retired, board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist with 19-years of clinical experience. She graduated from The Ohio State University College of Medicine earning Honors in many rotations. She then completed her OB/GYN residency program at The Ohio State University Medical Center, earning first-place for her senior research project and placed in the 98th percentile on the national exam for OB/GYN residents in the U.S..
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