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What is the Difference between a Physiotherapist and an Occupational Therapist?

What is the Difference between a Physiotherapist and an Occupational Therapist?

Many patients are curious about the differences between a Physiotherapist (PT), also commonly referred to as a Physical Therapist and that of an Occupational Therapist (OT).  Both are well educated and essential health care providers practising in the field of rehabilitative medicine.  While they have many overlapping similarities they are primarily distinguished from one another by differences having to do with each profession’s focus of intervention and care.  In reality, both professions address different aspects of the rehabilitation needs of an injured patient. 

A Physiotherapist’s Role in a Rehabilitation Clinic or a Patient’s Home or Office

As their name would suggest, a Physiotherapist is concerned primarily with diagnosing and treating physical dysfunctions of movement caused by injury or illness.  Physiotherapists receive extensive training in anatomy, physiology and exercise therapy.  A Physiotherapist will work with their patient to develop wellness and fitness programs aimed at healing or preventing an injury as well as the promotion of a more active lifestyle.  Physiotherapists achieve clinical practice experience in a variety of specialty areas that include orthopaedics, gerontology, sports therapy, neurology, paediatrics and women’s health.  The Physiotherapist’s approach to treatment has more to do with addressing the physical source of injury to the tissues and muscles. 

Occupational Therapists Can Provide Treatment in a Rehabilitation Clinic or in a Patient’s Home or Office

An Occupational Therapist share the same educational foundation as that of a Physiotherapist in the areas of anatomy and physiology, however the Occupational Therapist’s scope of practice is more focussed on evaluating and improving a patient’s functional abilities rather than treatment of their physical injury.   Whereas a Physiotherapist would use techniques like manual therapy to treat a person’s injury, an Occupational Therapist is called in to assist the injured person with optimizing their abilities to achieve independence with their daily activities of life following a period of physical impairment which may be caused by injury or illness.  The Occupational Therapist is often called upon to perform assessments in the home and workplace in order to help their patients improve their ability to carry out their daily life and work activities.  These assessments allow an Occupational Therapist to formulate recommendations having to do with adaptations to the home or work environment that will assist in achieving a more functional and improved quality of life.  The Occupational Therapist is specifically trained to identify the ways in which an environment can be modified and can provide the patient with training on how to use assistive equipment to achieve greater independence.  An Occupational Therapist helps patients with the “occupations” of their life which includes the patient’s ability to accomplish daily skills like dressing, grooming and self-feeding which can be compromised by physical injury, memory or cognitive loss following an accident or illness.  They can recommend and instruct the patient on the use of adaptive equipment which can assist with basic and advanced daily function.  An OT is often called upon to make recommendations having to do with accessibility and ergonomic function so that home and work situations can be modified to enable maximal function.  An OT receives specific training and is equipped to intervene in situations that identify deficits in a patient’s ability to feed, eat and swallow, self-groom, driving and mobility issues including stability and walking.  Patient’s recovering from a stroke or other neurological impairment will often need to re-learn these tasks and may need devices to assist them along the way.  OT’s are able to customize these adaptive tools or devices to best serve the needs of their patient.  OT’s also offer vital rehabilitative assistance to those with impaired cognitive, mental and visual abilities.  OT’s can be found serving key roles working with the elderly, cardiac, stroke, orthopaedic and neurological patients as well as special needs children in the school system and paediatric centres.  An OT provides education and training to patients of all ages and their families as they seek to improve their abilities at school, home and work.

There is significant overlap in the functions of a Physiotherapist and that of an Occupational Therapist.  Take the example of a stroke patient who may need a Physiotherapist to assist in rebuilding the strength in their arm will also require the services of Occupational Therapist to re-learn how to button their shirt, feed themselves or use their hand to write again when the arm regains some ability to function.  The OT can provide assistance with devices that can help patients achieve these goals and can provide guidance and instruction on how the patient’s environment can me modified so that accessibility is not as significant an issue.

CanadaPhysio rehabilitation centres have expertly trained and experienced Physiotherapists and Occupational Therapists who can provide patients with all the necessary treatment that they require to re-build strength and function and achieve maximal recovery following an injury or illness.  Our on-site Physiotherapists and Occupational Therapists can provide the patient with treatment in our clinics or in the patient’s home or workplace.  They are able to conduct assessments and provide comprehensive reports detailing their findings and recommendation on the patient’s functional abilities as well as provide education, training and assistive devices to improve daily function and quality of life.  Only a one stop wellness centre like CanadaPhysio clinics can fully integrate and provide the patient with all aspects of treatment in a seamless delivery model to best serve their needs.  Our health care team of rehabilitation professionals are here to assist you in living life to the fullest.

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