by Lloyd Wells
Physiotherapists work under the umbrella of occupational health services, so it’s no wonder that there’s often confusion between these two professions. There are some significant differences between the two professions, but there are also a lot of grey areas where the two overlap.
While physiotherapy tends to focus on the physical, with aims to increase mobility and function, occupational therapy focuses on strategies to help people to live as independently as possible. There are some overlaps, and occupational therapists use some physical therapy to help a person perform more meaningful and purposeful activities.
Physiotherapy – a definition
Physiotherapy, often shortened to physio, helps to restore movement and function to someone affected by injury, illness or disability. Physio treatment also combines prevention education to reduce the risk of future injury or illness, or a return of the current complaint.
Occupational therapy (OT) – a definition
Occupational therapy is also a client centred health profession, helping people of all ages carry out everyday activities, which are essential for health and well-being. Occupational health practitioners don’t just help with working activities, they cover all the things people need to do, want to do and are expected to do to participate in everyday life.
How can a physiotherapist help me?
Physiotherapists possess knowledge and skills to identify and treat a broad range of physical problems. They treat complaints of the neuromuscular system (brain and nervous system), and the musculoskeletal system (soft tissues, joints and bones). They also help with physical symptoms associated with the cardiovascular and respiratory systems (heart and lungs).
Physiotherapists help to identify and treat a whole range of injuries and conditions. Physios work mainly with musculoskeletal injuries and in rehabilitation after surgery, but are also trained to help with neurological or cardio-respiratory problems. A physiotherapist will help you to find the best way to restore function to body systems, and how best to manage pain.
They also work extensively in prevention strategies and will help educate you in the future management of your condition. They will work with you to develop goals for your rehabilitation. Using a combination of joint mobilisation, massage, dry needling, exercise and biomechanical re-training, physiotherapists aim to improve movement and restore function.
What are the main problems helped by physiotherapy?
- Musculoskeletal and sporting injuries – back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain
- General aches and pains
- Movement issues
- Postural re-training
- Vestibular disorders (vertigo)
- Women’s physical health issues (poor bladder control)
- Joint disorders
- Post-surgery rehabilitation
- Movement problems as a result of a stroke, multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease
- Rehabilitation after a heart attack
- Ongoing support for lung conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
How can an occupational therapist help me?
Occupational therapists help you to live as independently as possible. They help regain function and facilitate strategies for coping after the onset of illnesses, injuries or developmental delays. While an occupational therapist will not treat any physical injury, they will help you to optimise your ability to accomplish certain tasks.
They also help people with drug addiction, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, dementia, and personality disorders. Occupational therapists will help you to plan, manage money, build social skills and participate in community activities.
An occupational therapist will evaluate daily living needs and assess home and work environments. Where necessary, they will recommend adaptations to home and work environments to ensure you can continue with your activities. They will identify any difficulties you are having in daily life and help you to work out practical solutions.
To assist you in participating in everyday tasks, an occupational therapist will help by practising an activity in manageable steps. They will teach you different ways to complete tasks and recommend changes to make activities easier. They will also provide devices where necessary. Daily tasks could include washing, dressing, cooking and gardening, even cleaning your teeth. OT’s can also conduct assessments in your working environment, and suggest changes to your desk, chair and ergonomic equipment.
What are the main problems helped by occupational therapy?
- Medical conditions restricting movement, such as rheumatoid arthritis
- Rehabilitation after surgery, such as a hip replacement
- Support for people with mental health problems, such as anxiety disorders, mood disorders or personality disorders
- Support for people with learning disabilities
- Planning strategies for people with dementia
- Any other problem where someone is having difficulty with daily tasks
Can I see a physiotherapist and an occupational therapist at the same time?
Yes. It’s often the case, especially after extensive surgery. A physiotherapist will help you with the physical recovery, while the occupational therapist will help you adapt to your home environment and coach you to continue with normal everyday activities. Both physios and occupational health therapists will focus on education to prevent and avoid injuries.
Occupational therapists will help you to carry out your daily activities as normally as possible. Physiotherapists will help you to improve your physical ability to carry out those activities.