Difference between Occupational and Physical Therapy

By: | Updated: Dec-6, 2017

Occupational therapy and physical therapy both play a vital role in rehabilitative care. However, the goal behind therapy and the approach used in these individual fields are far from being alike. This article provides the differences between the two.

Summary Table

Occupational TherapyPhysical Therapy
Seeks to develop a patient’s functional abilitiesSeeks to promote physical wellness to minimize a patient’s risk for surgery or long-term medication
Responsible for designing activities that are crucial for a patient’s physical or mental developmentResponsible for diagnosing and directly treating a patient’s injuries
Ideal for patients with physical or mental impairment such as memory loss or developmental delaysIdeal for patients with physically debilitating injuries such as osteoarthritis, back pain, Parkinson’s disease, or spinal stenosis


people in therapy

Occupational therapy is geared towards developing an individual’s cognitive and developmental skills. Ideal for patients with disabilities affecting behavior, emotions, or motor skills, occupational therapy is a form of rehabilitative care that uses a holistic approach to wellness promotion. Instead of directly treating the patient’s injuries, an occupational therapist aims at improving the patient’s functional abilities.

Moreover, occupational therapy takes external factors into account during clinical assessment. The patient’s environment and other factors that impact the patient’s ability to engage in daily activities play an important role in the development of a rehabilitative plan.

Physical therapy, on the other hand, is a form of rehabilitative treatment that utilizes a different approach. A field that primarily focuses on the prevention and treatment of injuries from a biomechanical perspective, physical therapy seeks to improve a patient’s mobility and functional abilities through massage, exercise, and other therapeutic techniques.

Physical therapy also minimizes a patient’s risk for surgery or long-term medication. Aside from restoring mobility, physical therapists educate their patients about injury management and prevention so they can achieve long-term health benefits.

Occupational Therapy vs Physical Therapy

So what’s the difference between occupational and physical therapy? Even though there are similarities in their role in rehabilitative care, there are several factors that separate these two fast-growing professions.

Firstly, physical therapy is a type of rehabilitative treatment that aims to restore a patient’s mobility by directly fixing physical impairments and disabilities. It seeks to promote physical wellness to minimize a patient’s risk for surgery or long-term medication.

Occupational therapy also considers the physical development of patients; however, it is more concentrated on restoring the patient’s functional abilities to enable them to engage in daily activities. Between the two, occupational therapy is more holistic in nature.

In terms of job scope, physical therapists are responsible for diagnosing physical problems and developing a fitness and wellness program for patients suffering from injuries. They help patients recover from physical disabilities using therapeutic methods such as massage and exercise.

The duties and responsibilities of occupational therapists, on the other hand, are not limited to the physical aspects of rehabilitative care. Since they use a holistic approach, they must possess knowledge and skills in designing activities that help patients become fully equipped to engage in daily activities. They are required to have a base knowledge in both physical and mental aspects of development.

It follows, therefore, that these professions render services to patients with differing needs. Aside from assisting patients with physical impairment, occupational therapists also provide support to patients with delays in cognitive development or memory loss. Physical therapists, by contrast, focus on preventing and treating physical injuries such as osteoarthritis, back pain, Parkinson’s disease, and spinal stenosis.


The video below further describes the difference between an occupational therapist and a physical therapist.

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