Occupational Therapy Vs. physiotherapy: Differences and Similarities

Occupational Therapy vs Physiotherapy OTprinciple
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Occupational therapy and physiotherapy both are the part of rehabilitative care. Rehabilitation is defined as set of intervention designed to optimize functioning and reduce disability in individual with health condition in interaction with their environment. (WHO)

The final goal of rehabilitative care is to provide the individual with opportunities for full and effective participation and inclusion in society, including studying, working and access to all services on the same basis as other persons.

There are some similarities between occupational therapy and physiotherapy, and there are also some differences. In this article we will first discuss about major differences and then similarities.

Occupational therapy vs. physiotherapy: Differences

Occupational therapy, also referred to as OT, is a type of healthcare that helps to solve the problems that interfere with a person’s ability to do the things that are important to them. (Canadian Association of Occupation Therapists)

This type of healthcare often includes activities of daily living, like self-care, dressing, bathing, eating, shopping, home management etc. Working or studying playing sports, participating in social activities. For example, A person who is recovering from a stroke. In this condition, occupation therapist may help to relearn how to do daily task, like dressing, eating bathing and other self-care activities. Occupational therapist also works on environment modification according to the need of patient.

These are the main goal of occupational therapist in the rehabilitative care:

  • Maximize person’s ability to safely and effectively perform their ADL activities.
  • Promote independence and productivity.
  • Improve person’s fine and gross motor activity.
  • Improve or promote persons strength and endurance to perform various ADL activities.
  • Planning home and/or workplace modification according to the need and requirement of person.
  • Educating family and caregivers how to help who is undergoing rehabilitative care?

Occupational therapy mainly deals with:

  • Functional and work capacity development
  • Hand rehabilitation and orthotics fabrication
  • Ergonomic workstation or task assessment and modification
  • Functional or work capacity evaluation
  • Return to work program.
  • Home assessment and adaptation
Occupational therapy for children

Physiotherapy, also referred to as physical Therapy or PT, is primary concerned with diagnosing and treating physical dysfunction of movement caused by an injury or illness. For example, the same person in previous example, person recovering from a stroke, may undergo physiotherapy treatment which will improve person motor activity, strength and range of motion so that person can move with less pain or discomfort.

Physiotherapy improves the quality of life by:

  • Physiotherpiat promote optimal mobility, physical activity and overall health and Wellness
  • Preventing disease, injury and disability
  • Promoting optimal functional independence and physical performance
  • Rehabilitating injuries and the effects of disability or impairment with therapeutic exercise, and other interventions
  • Educate and planning maintenance and support programme to prevent recurrence of any further functional deficit

Now we have already discussed the differences between OT and PT. Most often occupational therapist and physiotherapists work together to provide rehabilitative care. This combine effort ensures a patient can move well and remain as independent as possible with caring for him or herself.

Occupational therapy and physiotherapy also share some common similarities. These include:

Overall purpose– Occupational therapy and physiotherapy both aim to improve overall functioning, quality of life  and knowledge about how to maintain health and well, being

Goals– Both occupational therapist and physiotherapist works on short goal to achieve long term goal

Therapy design– Both occupational therapy and physiotherapy provide the treatment according to the need of the patient

Health condition– There are many condition where both occupational therapists and physiotherapists work together as a rehabilitation team member to achieve a common goal. For example stroke, spinal cord injury (SCI), cerebral palsy (CP)

Intervention– However occupational therapist mainly focuses on occupation as a treatment method, But there can be some overlap in intervention planning of occupational therapy and physiotherapy. Foe example OT may also teach patient stretches and exercise, Physiotherapist may work on movement and help with ADL (Activities of daily living)

Therapeutic setup– Both physiotherapist and occupational therapist works in different private and public setup such as community care centre, clinic, hospitals, nursing homes, school, NGOs, Government agencies, research settings and more.

Now we have discussed differences and similarities between Occupational therapy and physiotherapy, let’s compare these two professions side by side

Occupational therapy Physiotherapy
Use activity as a treatment method to develop, recover or maintain daily work skillsRehabilitate patient using training and exercise
Improve basic motor functionsPrevent future injuries
Helps clients to have independent, productive livesAssist patient in resuming their daily activities
Improve motor skills to preform everyday activitiesPrevent long term pain through exercise and treatment
Aim to regain a sense of independenceAim to gain full range of mobility from damage  areas
Uses OT technique to help patient perform everyday activitiesUses PT technique to treat specific injured area
Focuses on the physical and mental aspect  of a patient through therapy to assist them in gaining independence and happinessFocuses on the physical aspect of patient to help them regain their full mobility of their body
To recover from an injury or surgery
Pain management
Neurological conditions like recovery from stroke, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis etc.
Orthopedic conditions like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis
Hand problems like carpal tunnel syndrome, regional pain syndrome (RPS)Developmental problems like autism spectrum disorders, sensory integration problems, etc.
Mental, health conditions like anxiety, depression, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease
Improving mobility after an injury
Post-operative recovery
Neurological conditions like recovery from stroke, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis etc.
Orthopedic conditions like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis
Hand problems like carpal tunnel syndrome, trigger finger
Medical conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis, heart complications etc.,    
Therapeutic modalities:
Helps to learn ADL activities such as getting dressed, eating, bathing etc.
Home and workplace assessment and modification according to the need of the patient
Suggestions and teaching how to use assistive devices
Works on fine and gross motor activities like writing, opening and closing buttons
Helps person to return to their work
Teaching stress management and relaxation technique
Educating family members and their caregivers about the patient condition  
Therapeutic modalities:
Physical manipulation
Cryotherapy (application of heat and cold)
Electrical stimulation (Electrotherapy)Hydrotherapy (Therapy using water)

Therapeutic setup:
Outpatient clinics
Hospitals and nursing homes (Inpatient services)
Mental health facilities
Home based treatment
Therapeutic setup:
Outpatient clinics
Hospitals and nursing homes (Inpatient services)
Fitness center
Home based treatment

Choosing your therapy: Occupational therapy or physiotherapy

It may be very hard to choose one of these therapies. In many cases you may need both occupational, therapy and physiotherapy in order to fully recover.

Physiotherapist work on client’s injury with the main aim to improve his or her ability to perform movement of the body whereas occupational therapist work on Clint with the main aim to improve his/her daily activities and making person independent.

For example a person with stroke may lose their hand function and have paralysis of other body parts. In this condition Physiotherapists focuses on strength and motion of body parts and occupational therapists focuses on hand function such as, OT may help to relearn how to write and functional use of body parts after gaining strength( following physiotherapy treatment).

So in general we can say that if you are having any injury and you are looking for regain the strength and motion of a specific  body part then physiotherapy[y is good choice. Occupational therapy would be the goof choice if you are in need of making your daily life easier (Occupational therapy make person independent).


  • WHO
  • Canadian association of occupational therapists
  • WFOT
  • World physiotherapy

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