While physical therapy aims to increase mobility and function, occupational therapy is focused on helping people live as independently as possible. There is some overlap between the two; several methods of physical therapy are used as part of occupational therapy.

Comparison chart

Occupational Therapy versus Physical Therapy comparison chart
Edit this comparison chartOccupational TherapyPhysical Therapy
Definition Occupational therapy (also abbreviated as OT) is a holistic health care profession that aims to promote health by enabling individuals to perform meaningful and purposeful activities across the lifespan. A health care profession primarily concerned with the remediation (fixing) of impairments and disabilities and the promotion of mobility, functional ability, quality of life and movement potential
Focus Helping people live as independently as possible. Restoring function. E.g. brushing teeth, combing hair, going to the bathroom etc Helping people move better and get relief from pain. Restoring movement and mobility. E.g. stand up, walk, get in and out of bed etc
Who needs it People with mental and physical impairments, developmental disabilities, after sudden serious health conditions like a stroke, Chronic conditions, like arthritis, after a work-related injury. After injuries or long-term health problems like back pain, osteoarthritis, spinal stenosis, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis.
A physical therapist working with a kid.
A physical therapist working with a kid.


Occupational therapy (OT) help patients regain function after onset of illnesses or injuries or developmental delays such as with autism, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome. OT is very individualized treatment. For example:

Physical therapy on the other hand focuses on a specific part of the body, which has undergone trauma, for example a fracture or a torn ligament and giving it certain kind of exercises to regain function and mobility.

In the early days of physical therapy, it was only restricted to exercise, massage and traction. Now physical therapists may specialize in specific clinical areas. e.g. there are specialized physical therapists treating only those who have had cardiac surgery, or athletic injury management, like acute care, treatment and rehabilitation, prevention, and education.

What does an Occupational Therapist Do?

An occupational therapist working with a kid to teach fine motor skills
An occupational therapist working with a kid to teach fine motor skills

What does a Physical Therapist Do?

Depending upon the health problem, the therapist will help the patient with flexibility, strength, endurance, coordination, and/or balance. First, the therapist will try to reduce the pain and swelling. The physical therapist may also use manual therapy, education, and techniques such as heat, cold, water, ultrasound, and electrical stimulation.

Then the physical therapist will teach some exercises that can be done at home. It will include stretching, core exercises, weight lifting, and walking.


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