What’s the Difference Between a Physical Therapist and an Occupational Therapist? Jason Greer, Rehabilitation Director at Southlake Orthopaedics

Both physical and occupational therapists are involved in the field of rehabilitative therapy, but there are some notable differences between them. According to Jason Greer, Director of Southlake Orthopaedics Rehabilitation, it’s important for patients to be aware of these differences to receive the care they need.

“Typically, occupational therapists help people, such as those with disabilities, live independently.  They help clients meet goals to develop, recover, improve, and maintain the skills needed for daily living and working.” Mr. Greer shares, “Some of these tasks may include typing, writing, brushing teeth, or dressing. In contrast to a physical therapist, they are focus on more sensory and fine motor skills, and therefore work closely with the cognitive side of healing.”

In their outpatient setting at Southlake Orthopaedics, occupational therapists are “hand” certified, so most of their patients involve hands, wrists, and elbows. To become a Certified Hand Therapist (CHT), a therapist must perform an additional 4,000 hours of clinical practice treating hand, wrist, and elbow injuries and successfully pass a national certification exam. The CHTs see patients who suffer from arthritis, tennis elbow, carpal tunnel, amputations, and more.

Mr. Greer also explains that physical therapists go through a three-year doctorate program where they become experts on the musculoskeletal system. They generally work on helping patients to improve their movement, mobility, and function. Common treatments focus on gait, balance, strength, and flexibility, utilizing a variety of exercises, stretches or other manual therapy techniques. “In an outpatient PT setting, we treat a variety of conditions, ranging from stroke, sports injuries, joint replacements, and more.”

Many patients have one major common misconception regarding their therapy: patients often believe that the therapy they receive, whether it is physical therapy or occupational therapy, will be painful. While it is true that some level of discomfort may be experienced during the therapy, Mr. Greer credits significant improvements in surgical techniques, which make the recovery process better overall. “A good starting point provided by surgeons, results in patients healing more effectively and quickly. This has a positive impact on the patient’s overall recovery process as they experience less pain and swelling and are better prepared to receive physical or occupational therapy. In other words, a good surgery provides the patient with a solid foundation to build upon, helping them to recover faster and with less discomfort.” He also shares that pain is a good guide for modern therapists, as it is important to not push past that pain threshold and instead listen to and honor the patient’s pain level.

For both occupational and physical therapy at Southlake Orthopaedics, patients will always receive an initial evaluation. During their first visit, the patient’s goals are shared, and the therapist develops a corresponding treatment plan. “During the first appointment, not only do we spend time doing exercises; we focus on education and setting expectations around our goals and strategies. This is the time we review at home protocols and emphasize the importance of continuing therapy at home.”

So, how do you know which kind of therapy you, as a patient, need? That simply depends on the condition you have and your needs. If you experience discomfort while walking or moving a particular body part, you may want to consider consulting a physical therapist. They have the skills to help alleviate your pain and enhance your mobility, strength, and range of motion through targeted exercises, stretches, and other manual therapy techniques. Alternatively, if you’re having difficulty performing everyday activities such as dressing or picking up objects, working with an occupational therapist can help improve the motor skills needed to perform these tasks. Of course, our experienced care team can help you navigate the type of care that is most appropriate for your specific situation.

Whether it’s physical therapy or occupational therapy you need, Southlake Orthopaedics is here to help you get back your mobility and help you feel your best. Contact us today to make an appointment so you can get back to the life you love with less pain!


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