What is the difference between Occupational Therapy and Physiotherapy?

Occupational Therapists (OTs) and Physiotherapists (Physios) can sometimes be confused as both professions can work with similar groups of people.

Physiotherapy focuses on improving a person’s movement. Physios are movement experts as they have the knowledge and understanding of the anatomy and physiology of the affected area – including muscles, tendons, joints, range of motion, strength etc. Physios help improve the lives of people who have movement issues. This is done through

  • Providing hands-on care
  • Prescribing specific movement exercises
  • Education – on the affected area of the body
  • Prescription of certain mobility aids – Zimmer frames, tri walkers, rollators, etc.
  • Individual or group work – goals can be achieved through individual therapy or group therapy depending on the physio you are working with, your injury and the expertise of the physio.

In comparison to a Physio – an OT is focused on improving people’s ability to perform specific tasks or activities they want to complete in their normal everyday lives. An OT will work with the person to understand their abilities and goals, then the OT will develop a treatment plan based on this information. These goals can include both physical and mental/cognitive tasks. To help people achieve these goals an OT may use one or a combination of techniques. These include:

  • Person – the OT will work with the person, and their family or carers (if relevant), in building or maintaining the skills needed to engage in their desired activity. This may include practical exercises, providing equipment, education etc
  • Environment – the OT will work with the client to adapt the environment to allow the person to engage – this may include house/home adaptions, grab rail installation, re organisation of rooms/areas, understanding the social environment and supports/barriers present.
  • Occupation – finally an OT may look at adapting the occupation or activity the person is doing.

An OT and Physio can regularly work together for a variety of reasons. Engagement in your regular everyday activities or occupations generally require movement. Likewise, movement generally helps enable engagement in everyday activities. Both an OT and Physio may be involved in equipment prescription (riser recliners, hoists, mobility aids, daily living aids, pressure care, etc.).

Overall, an OT and Physio aim to improve a person’s life by helping them to achieve their goals. If you would like to know which profession would be more suitable for your situation you can contact our resident OT to find out.