What’s the Difference Between Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy?

occupational therapy and physical therapy what are the differences?

What are the differences between occupational therapy and physical therapy? Let's explore the differences.

Occupational therapy and physical therapy are often confused. In many healthcare settings, they work on similar skills, but from different perspectives. Both professions require a strong academic background. OT requires a master's degree and physical therapy requires a doctorate degree. Both occupational therapy assistants and physical therapy assistants require associate degrees.

What is the definition of occupational therapy?

Occupational therapy (OT) is a therapy that works on improving an individual's ability to participate in everyday occupations. Occupations vary based on age. A child can have the occupations of school, play, sleep, etc. While an adult has occupations such as the daily life activities of dressing, cooking, bathing, and eating. Therapists work on the underlying motor, cognitive function, strength, etc that affect their ability to participate in these activities.

Occupational therapists often work with people who have difficulty performing daily tasks, such as brushing their teeth or getting dressed. They may also work with patients who have suffered a stroke or other neurological conditions.

What is the definition of physical therapy?

Physical therapy (PT) is a therapy that works from a mostly neuromuscular standpoint and aims to rehabilitate or habilitate an individual to function, move, and live better. They work on strength, mobility, and coordination.

Physical therapists often help people regain movement and strength after an injury or surgery. They may also work with patients who have conditions like cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, or arthritis.

Physical therapy is called physiotherapy in many countries.

What are the differences between occupational therapy and physical therapy?

Let's take a closer look.

Physical therapy (PT) focuses more on mobility and ambulation (walking). PT tends to use more physical methods such as massage, heat treatment, and exercise than occupational therapy (OT). These methods are also called physical modalities.

In many settings, OTs use activities to work on increasing function, while physical therapists use exercise to increase function.

Both occupational therapy and physical therapy can be helpful for people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and developmental delays.

What are the differences between pediatric occupational therapy and pediatric physical therapy?

Occupational therapists work on fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, sensory processing disorders, and more. Physical therapists focus a lot of their time working with gross motor skills such as walking or running. Occupational therapists also help children who have difficulty in school due to learning disabilities or other issues that may affect them academically. 

What is pediatric physical therapy?

Pediatric therapists often help children with developmental disabilities or neurological conditions, such as cerebral palsy. They work on mobility and motor functions such as walking, crawling, throwing a ball, and using stairs.

What is pediatric occupational therapy? 

Pediatric occupational therapists typically work with children who are having a difficult time with daily tasks. These activities can be eating, self-feeding, picking up small objects, sensory processing disorder, and more. Read more on pediatric occupational therapy and frames of reference for pediatric occupational therapists.

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Is it a meltdown or a tantrum?

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How much are occupational therapists versus physical therapists' salaries?

The average annual salary of a registered occupational therapist is $86,280 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) versus physical therapy average salary is $91,010.

There are several factors that can affect a therapist’s salary, with the biggest factors usually employment setting and geographic location.

Occupational Therapist and Physical Therapist Job Growth

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that occupational therapy jobs will grow by around 17% between 2020 and 2030. Physical therapy jobs will grow by 21% (Much faster than average).

Salary & job outlook

Pediatric occupational therapist jobs pay an average salary of $92,056 compared to pediatric physical therapist jobs which pay around $89,443 annually on average (Zip Recruiter)

What Education level do you need to be a PT versus an OT?

Since 2016 In order to become a newly certified physical therapist, you must obtain a doctorate degree. 

New Occupational therapists need a master's degree in order to practice. There was a push toward an entry-level doctorate degree but that requirement has not gone into place. There are some programs that offer an entry-level doctoral degree in occupational therapy

When did physical therapy change to requiring a doctorate degree?

Physical therapy first changed from a bachelor's degree to a master's degree in the early 1990s. 

In the early 2000s, physical therapists began pushing for a doctor of physical therapy degree to be required. In 2016, this push was successful and a doctorate in physical therapy is now the required degree to practice physical therapy.

When did occupational therapy change from requiring a bachelor's degree to a master's degree? 

Occupational therapy changed from a bachelor's degree to a master's degree in the early 2000s. The push for a change to requiring a doctorate degree was not successful.

What degree do you need to become an occupational therapy assistant or physical therapy assistant?

Occupational therapy and physical therapy assistants both require an associate's degree. 

Which career should you choose: OT or PT?

That is up to the individual! Some people prefer one over the other, but you can't go wrong with either profession if you are looking to help people.

First, think about what work environment you feel the most comfortable in. Within pediatrics, there are more outpatient OT opportunities, including more positions in the schools. (If you are very interested in working within the school system, then also consider becoming a speech therapist if you want to work with individual children or small groups as there are even more positions in the schools as well)

Think about what you really want to do every day. Do you love sports? There are more opportunities as a physical therapist. Want to work with children with autism? Then occupational therapy might be right for you.

Neither occupational therapy nor physical therapy is a “one size fits all” profession. Each therapist and work environment will have their own unique areas of expertise and focus. The difference in educational requirements should be considered as well.

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