Occupational therapist vs. physical therapist. Which career is right for you? Both do vital hands-on rehabilitative work to help patients with injuries or disabilities that limit how they’re able to move and function in daily life.
PTs work primarily with people recovering from injuries. The goal is to get patients back in motion with exercises, massage and other techniques, and therapy usually happens in a PT’s office. Physical therapy often focuses on preventing injuries, and it can help people avoid surgery or a long-term reliance on medications.
OTs help their patients perform day-to-day tasks, whether they’re recovering from injuries or have developmental or cognitive disabilities affecting their motor skills, emotions or behavior. Some occupational therapy might happen in a hospital or OT’s office, but a key component occurs in a patient’s home or work environment. There’s a strong emphasis on the practical aspects of helping people do the things they want and need to do so they can live life to the fullest.
The Key Differences
Here’s a comparison between occupational therapist vs. physical therapist professions:
Licensing and Certification
Average Annual Salary
- Women’s health
- Community mobility
- Environment modification
- Low vision
- Feeding, eating, swallowing
- School systems
In some cases, patients start out with a physical therapist then move on to an occupational therapist. One example: Someone recovering from a stroke might work with a physical therapist to build back muscle strength. Later on, that person would see an occupational therapist to work on buttoning a shirt, using the restroom or taking a shower.
If you’re interested in either career, there are entry-level educational and career options. Find out more about what it takes to become a physical therapy assistant or an occupational therapy assistant.
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics, Occupational Therapists; American Occupational Therapy Association; American Physical Therapy Association.
The salary information and job growth data listed is based on a national average, unless noted. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.
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