The core similarity between physiotherapy and occupational therapy is that they aim to restore mobility and improve the quality of life for those who need it. These forms of treatment aim to equip patients with the knowledge to improve or maintain their health. Both forms of therapy are goal-oriented, and goals are set to assess progress. The two also coincide in that they are tailored to meet individual needs according to the client’s requirements.
On the flip side, however, they differ in the method they deploy to achieve the perceived result. Occupational therapists (OTs) treat clients holistically, considering their physical, mental, and emotional needs. They aim to enable daily functioning and independence. In contrast, physiotherapists (PTs) specifically assist with motor function and injury. PTs focus on biomechanical restoration and do not cater to other aspects such as emotional or psychological needs. The two may even coincide or overlap in certain factors, such as occupational therapists teaching stretches or exercises that restore motor function and physiotherapists training and helping with muscle motor functions that restore daily functioning.
What Do Occupational Therapists Do?
Occupational therapy helps individuals manage their disabilities to restore function in their daily lives. The law recognises it as a healthcare profession requiring university-level training and education. The holistic approach used by OTs combines developmental, emotional, physical, and mental faculties to enable clients to achieve their goals and independently manage day-to-day tasks (Occupational Therapy, 2020).
Occupational therapists (OTs) are usually members of interdisciplinary teams. Hence, by working collectively, they reach designated goals. They work in healthcare-related and social settings and deal directly with individuals who struggle with various functional limits, disabilities, and dependencies. OTs are an integral part of the rehabilitation process, especially whilst addressing activities of daily living (ADLs) (Sanchez, 2021).
Goals of an Occupational Therapist
Essentially, the three main objectives of an OT are health promotion, disability prevention, and attainment of an optimal degree of functionality. The cause of impairment may be a mental or physical ailment, cognitive dysfunction, injury, learning or developmental disabilities, or other contextual factors such as old age (Sanchez, 2021).
Remedial goals are attained via activities or techniques formulated to:
- Rehabilitate functional capacity
- Master and reduce pathologies
- Promote the learning of tasks and skills required for integration into the environment (e.g., changing clothes, holding a pen, cooking, eating, etc.)
- Encourage healthy activities and health promotion.
When is Occupational Therapy Needed?
Occupational therapy is required for various reasons and to fulfill multiple needs. OTs are found in diverse settings such as assisted-living facilities and retirement communities, home healthcare services, elementary and secondary schools, rehabilitation centres, therapists’ offices, workplaces, and hospitals. It is needed when an ailment, disability, disease, or injury causes day-to-day tasks to become burdensome or even impossible for an individual to perform.
Depending on where an OT is employed, they will tailor the treatment regimen according to the client’s needs. They help individuals that are:
- Recuperating from surgery or ailment. At hospitals, OTs assist individuals recovering from traumatic injuries with everyday tasks such as: using the bathroom, holding utensils to eat a meal, and their hygiene. In this setting, OTs are likely to assist such patients by gradually weaning them off their assistance and helping them incorporate mental and physical exercises to aid in their recovery process.
- Suffer from mental health conditions. OTs, help individuals struggling with mental health by developing coping tactics to become more socially engaged, feel less isolated, and become more orderly. Additionally, they can help them become more independent by teaching their patients to become self-aware of their mental health status and strategies to cope with shifts in their mental health.
- Experiencing learning disabilities. OTs employ a variety of techniques to relieve clients of restrictions. Suppose OTs are working at an elementary or secondary school. In that case, the treatment will focus on social involvement, self-care skills, mental well-being, and physical activities such as sports. They may teach their clients mindfulness and breathing techniques to alleviate anxiety and combat depression. Furthermore, children on the autism spectrum can benefit from occupational therapy. This therapy will likely help them accomplish daily tasks independently and overcome communication barriers (Occupational Therapists, 2020).
- Residing in assisted-living facilities. Assisted-living residences provide assistance, healthcare, and long-term housing for aging individuals. Daily tasks such as dressing, bathing, and eating can become burdensome when the body’s faculties begin to deteriorate at a certain age. OTs help individuals maintain their independence by developing routine physical and cognitive therapies.
- Rehabilitating from narcotic use. Rehab centres hire OTs to assist individuals that suffer from substance abuse. Certain drugs’ side effects result in chronic memory loss and cognitive dysfunction similar to dementia (incoherence, inability to stay on topic, wandering train of thought, etc.). That is why they require occupational therapy on their road to recovery.
What Do Physiotherapists Do?
Physiotherapy assists in rehabilitating function and motion when an individual is affected by disability, injury, or illness. It also acts as a preventive tool to impede further deterioration and risks of the same dysfunctions occurring in the future (Physiotherapy, 2018).
Goals of a Physiotherapist
Physiotherapists (PTs) directly deal with their patients and help them incorporate exercises, techniques, and regimens into their lifestyles. These changes aim to help them recover from biomechanical ailments and disabilities. Physiotherapy can treat impairments ranging from mild, such as a bit of muscle soreness, to severe, such as multiple sclerosis (MS).
When is Physiotherapy Needed?
Like OTs, PTs are found in interdisciplinary teams. They assist individuals of all ages with a diverse range of conditions, which include (but are not limited to) dysfunctions affecting:
- The cardiovascular system. Rehabilitation of the body following a myocardial infarction requires an interdisciplinary team in which PTs play a significant role. Depending on the intensity of the heart attack, cardiac rehabilitation may take a few weeks up to several months. PTs tailor regimens that help patients slowly recover their physical fitness and recommence their usual activities. Additionally, physiotherapy may be a powerful tool in preventing heart attacks in the future (Recovery – Heart Attack, 2019).
- The nervous system. Recovering motor function following a stroke can be complicated and gradual. Strokes cause permanent or long-term damage to the brain, resulting in everlasting issues. Most people that survive a stroke require support and rehabilitation for a prolonged period or even for the rest of their lives. In certain regions, “rehab services” are provided to stroke survivors in which PTs may perform a prominent role. Similarly, cognitive dysfunction ailments such as Parkinson’s, dementia, and Alzheimer’s require physiotherapy. A prominent disease that cannot be managed without physiotherapy is This ailment progressively worsens, and people suffering from MS must incorporate physiotherapy into their lives to cope with it.
- The respiratory system. Physiotherapy techniques such as the “airway clearance technique” and specific physical activities aid those suffering from cystic fibrosis. These techniques clear mucus from the lungs and enable easier breathing. Furthermore, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a group of lung diseases such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema that induce breathing issues. Physiotherapy plays a role in COPD treatment as it is a crucial component of pulmonary rehabilitation (Levine & Stankiewicz, 2022).
- Chronic pain. Physiotherapy is a widely known and effective treatment for back, neck, and shoulder pain. Many corporations have initiated physiotherapy-led and physiotherapy-inspired campaigns to encourage “desk workouts” that incorporate easy movements to alleviate and prevent back pain. Soft tissue, bones, and joints are prone to degradation from sedentary lifestyles, which is why physiotherapy has become significant over time, especially with today’s fast-paced lifestyles. Additionally, it helps treat sports injuries that could occur due to various reasons (usually affecting ankles and knees) (Morrison. M.D. & Heitz, 2018).
Which Physiotherapy Specialisation Is Right for You?
There are various classifications within the field of physiotherapy. The American Board of Physical Therapy Specialities (ABPTS) proposes that choosing to do a specialisation helps PTs refine their skills and work on their professional growth and development. The ABPTS recognises nine sectors of specialisation, with a tenth soon to become certifiable.
These specialities require 2000 hours of hands-on patient care in the relevant field, and the fulfillment of an American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) accredited residency within the past decade. Some areas, such as sports clinical specialisation (SCS), Electrophysiologic Clinical Specialisation (ECS), and Cardiovascular & Pulmonary Clinical Specialisation (CCS), have additional requirements (American Physical Therapy Association, 2022).
All types of physiotherapy specialisations benefit the clients and serve as a learning experience for PTs. The types of domains are as follow:
- Neurology Clinical Specialisation (NCS). Neurology specialists are commonly found in clinical and rehab centre settings. These PTs care for patients with neurological trauma, disorders, or dysfunctions. This specialisation is one of the most in-demand specialisations currently.
- Cardiovascular & Pulmonary Clinical Specialisation (CCS). APTA established the cardiovascular & pulmonary clinical specialisation (CCS) in 1981. Moreover, it was the first domain to be certificated by APTA. Physiotherapy is essential in treating multiple lung and heart disorders. The additional requirements for this domain are:
- Evidence of contribution in a clinical data research project associated with the pulmonary and cardiovascular field within the past decade.
- Certification from the American Heart Association (AHA) for Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) training.
- Orthopaedic Clinical Specialisation (OCS). OCS deals with musculoskeletal dysfunctions, which involve bones, tendons, muscles, joints, and ligaments. It also happens to be the most sought-after physical therapy speciality.
- Geriatric Clinical Specialisation (GCS). An estimated 14.4% of Singapore’s population was 65 years or older in 2019. This statistic is estimated to rise to 25% by the year 2030. This means that more therapists with GCS are required as their demand will likely increase in the coming years.
- Oncology Specialisation. Oncology specialists help people that are either undergoing treatment or recovery from cancer. Cancer treatment or the disease usually results in bone density loss, acute weight loss, chronic pain, and weakness.
- Paediatric Clinical Specialisation (PCS). PCS deals with physical issues affecting neonates to adolescents. Conditions generally prevalent in this age group are cystic fibrosis, autism, cerebral palsy, etc.
- Women’s Health Specialisation (WCS). A recent type of speciality is that of Women’s Health. The WCS specifically caters to the needs of women as they experience menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause. Therapists with WCS generally assist women in dealing with prepartum and postpartum issues such as low back pain, pelvic pain, and or incontinence.
- Sports Clinical Specialisation (SCS). This specialisation treats athletes using contemporary therapy techniques such as massages and exercises and traditional therapy such as cupping to meet their needs. SCS is becoming a famous career avenue for PTs, leading to multiple pathways. The additional requirements for this speciality are as follows:
- CPR certification from the Red Cross or AHA
- Certification for Acute Management of Injury & Illness in sports medicine
- Electrophysiologic Clinical Specialisation (ECS). ECS is one of the latest specialisations concerning physiotherapy. Specialists tend to muscle and nerve damage that are often a result of wounds or compromised skin integrity. The additional requirements for this speciality are as follows:
- Submission of a list of 1-3 applicable experiences accomplished under the supervision of a licensed physiotherapist within the past decade accompanying a document from a co-worker providing details of an account of the experience(s).
- Submission of the testing log documentation of 500 of the latest electroneuromyography investigations completed within the past decade, along with patient reports from the past three years.
- Wound Management Specialisation. This specialisation pertains to treating deep and superficial wounds. It also studies the co-dependency of body systems on one another. The wound management specialisation has yet to become certifiable; therefore, its requirements are yet to be determined.
PTs and OTs are instrumental in assisting individuals struggling with dysfunctions to overcome their hurdles and lead normal lives. Whether you choose to be a PT or an OT, you will be helping yourselves change your lives for the better. Should you have any more enquiries, please feel free to contact us immediately.
American Physical Therapy Association. (2022). Careers in Physical Therapy. APTA. https://www.apta.org/your-career/careers-in-physical-therapy
Levine, A. R., & Stankiewicz, J. (2022, April 10). Pulmonary Rehabilitation. MSD Manual. https://www.msdmanuals.com/home/lung-and-airway-disorders/rehabilitation-for-lung-and-airway-disorders/pulmonary-rehabilitation#:~:text=Pulmonary%20rehabilitation%20is%20the%20use,who%20have%20chronic%20lung%20disease.
Morrison.M.D., W., & Heitz, D. (2018, November 9). Everything You Need to Know About Sports Injuries and Rehab. Healthline. Retrieved July 21, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/health/sports-injuries
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Recovery – Heart attack. (2019, November 28). NHS. Retrieved July 20, 2022, from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/heart-attack/recovery/#cardiac-rehabilitation
Sanchez, Á. (2021, February 2). Occupational therapy: Characteristics, goals, and functions. NeuronUP. Retrieved July 19, 2022, from https://neuronup.us/cognitive-stimulation-news/occupational-therapy/occupational-therapy-characteristics-goals-and-functions/
University, S. C. (2021, April 7). Where Do Occupational Therapists Work? St. Catherine University. Retrieved July 20, 2022, from https://otaonline.stkate.edu/blog/where-do-occupational-therapists-work/
Vázquez, S. (2021). Activities of Daily Living (ADLs). NeuronUP. Retrieved July 19, 2022, from https://neuronup.us/areas-of-intervention/adl/