Physiotherapy vs. Occupational Therapy: Which One Do You Need? skip to Main Content

Physiotherapy vs. Occupational Therapy: Which One Do You Need?

If you’re recovering from an injury or illness, you may find yourself in need of physiotherapy, occupational therapy, or possibly both. It may be difficult to understand if you need physiotherapy vs. occupational therapy, and how exactly each service will be able to help you.

Physiotherapist helps female patient with arm injury at physiotherapy clinic.

What is Physiotherapy?

Physiotherapy, also referred to as physical therapy or PT, is primarily concerned with diagnosing and treating physical dysfunctions of movement caused by injury or illness. The Description of Physiotherapy in Canada document from the Canadian Physiotherapy Association states that:

“Physiotherapy is a primary care, autonomous, client-focused health profession dedicated to improving quality of life by:

  • Promoting optimal mobility, physical activity and overall health and wellness;
  • Preventing disease, injury, and disability;
  • Managing acute and chronic conditions, activity limitations, and participation restrictions;
  • Improving and maintaining optimal functional independence and physical performance;
  • Rehabilitating injury and the effects of disease or disability with therapeutic exercise programs and other interventions; and
  • Educating and planning maintenance and support programs to prevent re-occurrence, re-injury or functional decline. “

What is Occupational Therapy?

According to the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists, Occupational Therapy (OT) is:

“…a type of health care that helps to solve the problems that interfere with a person’s ability to do the things that are important to them.”

This often includes daily living activities like self-care (getting dressed, eating), working or studying, playing sports, participating in social activities, and more. In other words, an occupational therapist helps figure out why you can’t do what you would like to do, and provide solutions to help solve these problem.

Occupational therapist (OT) helps senior woman open jar at home.

Where do Physiotherapists and Occupational Therapists Work?

Both physiotherapists and occupational therapists work in a variety of private and public settings, such as community care centres, clinics, hospitals, schools, research centres, government agencies, and more. Both physiotherapy and occupational therapy are also common as an in-home service.

Occupational therapy is more common in a home-care setting due to the nature of the job. An occupational therapist will assess your physical abilities, the devices that you use in your daily living activities, and the physical setup of your house. Depending on the problem, the occupational therapist may devise a solution by recommending changes to your living environments.

While physiotherapists do work in a home-care setting, it’s more common for patients to visit a physiotherapy clinic. This is due to the equipment and supplies needed for physiotherapy treatment. It is possible to provide preventative and rehabilitative support with mobile equipment in a patient’s home, but having access to equipment like a treadmill, hydrocollator, treatment beds, and ultrasound equipment, for example, make it more ideal to receive physiotherapy treatment in a clinic-based setting.

Physiotherapist helps senior woman do hand grip strengthening exercise.

Deciding Between a Physiotherapist vs. Occupational Therapist

It may be hard to decide whether you’re in need of a physiotherapist vs. occupational therapist. In many cases, you may need help from both in order to fully recover.

A physiotherapist will focus on treating a client’s injury and working to improve his/her ability to perform movement of the human body. Meanwhile, an occupational therapist will help the injured person improve their ability to perform activities of daily living independently following a period of physical impairment.

A stroke patient, for example, may experience loss of arm function or paralysis in parts of their body. In order to fully recover, they may need a physiotherapist to rebuild the strength and motion in that body part. At the same time, they may need help from an occupational therapist to regain functional use of the body part, such as re-learning to write. An occupational therapist can also make changes to the patients living environment or provide special tools to make activities easier for the patient while receiving treatment.

A general rule of thumb is if you are looking to treat an injury and regain the strength and motion of a specific body part, physiotherapy is probably the right choice. Occupational therapy would be the right choice if you are in need of making your daily living activities easier. If you’re not sure whether you need physiotherapy vs. occupational therapy, you should consult your physician for a proper diagnosis and referral.

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