Physical Therapy vs. Occupational Therapy

People often confuse physical therapy and occupational therapy. The difference between the two is their goal. Physical therapy focuses on improving mobility. Occupational therapy focuses on enabling patients to complete daily activities. This post highlights the similarities and differences of PT and OT.


It can be easy to confuse occupational and physical therapy. Each is used to treat injuries that limit function, mobility and cause pain. Both help patients recover from surgery. They’re often used to treat the same problem!

There is one fundamental difference. Physical therapy often focuses on improving mobility. Occupational therapy focuses on enabling patients to complete everyday activities (also known as activities of daily living or ADLs).

Let’s take a moment to compare these two types of treatment.

Physical therapy focuses on improving your mobility

A patient receives physical therapy in Detroit MI.

Physical therapists focus on a patient’s impairment. Their goal is to get the patient mobile and walking. If you had a total knee replacement, a physical therapist would help you regain mobility in your legs with a goal of walking.

Physical therapists create a treatment plan that involves stretches and exercises. They also provide you with at-home exercises. All of these are aimed at improving movement, reducing pain and preventing re-injury.

Physical therapy can be used to help patients recover from surgery. And it can also be used to help patients avoid surgery.

While physical therapy focuses on your mobility, occupational therapy emphasizes you returning to your Activities of Daily Living (ADLs).

Occupational therapy focuses on enabling you to do everyday activitiesAn occupational therapy patient draws. OT helps people get back to their favorite everyday activities.

Occupational therapists help patients to be able to perform everyday tasks like bathing and grooming, changing their clothes, writing, etc.

Even a “small” injury can have a major impact on a person’s ability to do the simplest of daily activities. This is especially true of the elderly and of people who have physical disabilities.

An occupational therapist learns the patient’s everyday occupations and activities of daily living. What do you need to do in order to be able to live fully? What activities would you like to be able to do again?

OT answers those questions with more than just exercises to build strength. An occupational therapist might recommend devices that help patients overcome a certain limitation. Perhaps changes to a patient’s home might enable them to move more freely.

These are the kind of treatments that an occupational therapist may consider. They address a patient’s entire situation, rather than just an injured joint.

How physical therapy and occupational therapy overlap

PT and OT overlap in many ways. Both are aimed at improving your ability to move. Both work with your doctor to monitor your progress. Both are designed to prevent pain and injury.

Both are used by Motus Rehabilitation to treat common conditions like:

  • Carpal tunnel
  • Cubital tunnel
  • Tendinitis, tennis and golfer’s elbow
  • Trigger finger, sprains and strains
  • Flexor and extensors tendon injuries

Some patients start treatment in physical therapy, then move on to occupational therapy  (or OT to PT). It depends on what each patient needs to be able to live life to the fullest.

Contact Motus for more information

If you think that physical therapy or occupational therapy might help you, contact Motus rehabilitation. We will discuss treatment options for your condition, including physical therapy and occupational therapy.

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