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Occupational Therapy vs. Physical Therapy: What’s the Difference?

Occupational and physical therapists can treat patients in many different environments – in the hospital, in a facility, at schools or even at home. At Visiting Nurse Association of Ohio, our clinicians have been treating patients in their own homes with physical and occupational therapy for over 50 years.

This year, to celebrate Occupational Therapy Month, we talked to VNA of Ohio’s Terry Biggar, an occupational therapist for 41 years. Terry told us about the key differences between occupational and physical therapy. While there are differences between the two, both physical and occupational therapy share the same patient outcome goal: promoting patient independence and safe functioning in the home.

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapists assess how a patient performs what are known as “activities of daily living” in their home. For example, are they able to feed themselves? Bathe? Groom? Get dressed? Use the bathroom? It’s important for the therapist to know if a patient can do these things without assistance and do them safely.

In partnership with the patient and anyone else that may be taking care of the patient, the therapist then develops a plan of care to help the patient function independently and safely in their home. The therapist will include adaptive techniques in a plan of care, that is, ideas for overcoming obstacles or challenges such as high shelves or stairs in their homes. The therapist may also include information on how to use assistive devices, such as a chair lift to help them get into bed. They will also develop an exercise plan with the patient to increase their function.

All of these strategies are based on the individual patient and the patient’s unique home environment. The caregiver is also kept abreast of the plan of care to ensure a smooth transition when the patient reaches his or her goals and no longer requires assistance from an occupational therapist.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapists also assess patients’ independence and safety but they do this by looking at their mobility skills in their home. This includes walking, stair management, transferring from a wheelchair to a bed, bathroom or any other transition a patient may have to make.

Physical therapists create individual patient treatment plans to match each person's goals, helping people improve their fitness and function, avoid surgery, reduce the use of opioids and other drugs, and partner in their own care. This may include training in the use of a walking device or safe body mechanics during transfers. They will also develop an exercise program to help a patient gain strength and range of motion. All of these activities help patients achieve safety and independence in their home by addressing whatever is limiting them.


Call VNA of Ohio Today

VNA of Ohio home health care rehabilitation therapies extend to include physical therapy, speech-language pathology, lymphedema therapy, and VitalStim® swallowing therapy, among other extensive specialty programs. Learn more about VNA of Ohio rehabilitation therapy services, or call us today at 1-877-698-6264.