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OT vs PT: What’s the Difference?

physical therapist helps senior man with walking
Home » Blog » Physical Therapist vs. Occupational Therapist
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Written and reported by:
All Allied Health Schools Staff

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. Other OTs work in schools and help children develop skills to become functioning, independent adults.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:

Job Duties


Physical Therapists

  • Diagnose physical problems restricting movement because of an illness or injury
  • Use exercises and other techniques to ease pain and boost mobility and muscle strength
  • Develop fitness and wellness programs aimed at preventing injuries and encouraging a more active lifestyle

Occupational Therapists

  • Help patients with daily living skills and self-care tasks (i.e., “occupations”) such as getting dressed
  • Make recommendations about adaptive and accessibility equipment, such as ramps, wheelchairs, or gait trainers to patients, architects, and contractors
  • Support patients with memory loss or other cognitive issues

Education


Physical Therapists

Occupational Therapists

  • Most practicing physical therapists hold a doctorate, which can take about three years to complete. Master’s degrees take two years and both require an undergraduate degree.
  • Occupational therapists need at least a master’s degree to practice (two years). A doctoral degree takes between two and three years.

Licensing and Certification


Physical Therapists

Occupational Therapists

  • Physical therapists must be licensed. To sit for the National Physical Therapist Examination, you have to be a graduate of an accredited physical therapy school.
  • Licensing laws vary by state but common requirements include graduating from an accredited occupational therapy school, meeting fieldwork requirements, and passing a national certification exam.

Median Annual Salaries

Your education, years on the job, and location, can play a factor in how much you earn. Compare salaries for PTs and OTs below.

Physical Therapists

National data

Median Salary: $95,620

Projected job growth: 16.9%

10th Percentile: $61,930

25th Percentile: $77,750

75th Percentile: $101,920

90th Percentile: $127,110

Projected job growth: 16.9%

State data

State Median Salary Bottom 10% Top 10%
Alaska $99,810 $38,960 $128,450
Alabama $95,450 $59,810 $130,000
Arkansas $93,560 $59,640 $126,600
Arizona $95,590 $72,500 $127,740
California $101,180 $50,230 $135,570
Colorado $93,100 $60,960 $125,670
Connecticut $100,070 $76,660 $129,210
District of Columbia $95,870 $75,710 $127,370
Delaware $97,630 $75,710 $129,450
Florida $95,450 $61,750 $120,750
Georgia $95,590 $71,410 $124,450
Hawaii $95,110 $37,190 $127,160
Iowa $78,930 $60,750 $103,170
Idaho $80,340 $61,990 $102,060
Illinois $97,690 $65,380 $122,370
Indiana $95,390 $62,830 $120,500
Kansas $88,570 $61,080 $120,650
Kentucky $81,850 $59,840 $116,790
Louisiana $95,590 $63,630 $129,270
Massachusetts $96,410 $61,200 $123,620
Maryland $94,960 $62,760 $120,260
Maine $79,170 $61,990 $102,060
Michigan $79,870 $56,680 $102,060
Minnesota $80,130 $72,880 $101,510
Missouri $79,050 $59,830 $108,340
Mississippi $95,770 $73,870 $129,270
Montana $78,950 $61,210 $102,060
North Carolina $79,240 $60,900 $106,980
North Dakota $78,270 $61,350 $100,620
Nebraska $80,990 $61,740 $120,500
New Hampshire $83,700 $61,740 $102,370
New Jersey $99,730 $76,980 $128,330
New Mexico $95,590 $75,220 $130,430
Nevada $99,360 $60,800 $152,420
New York $95,620 $62,270 $121,140
Ohio $95,620 $66,460 $124,380
Oklahoma $79,220 $60,720 $126,210
Oregon $95,040 $73,600 $120,750
Pennsylvania $95,890 $68,430 $121,230
Rhode Island $95,930 $61,990 $121,140
South Carolina $79,830 $49,870 $104,390
South Dakota $78,040 $61,570 $100,920
Tennessee $95,370 $61,990 $106,040
Texas $99,040 $62,240 $136,870
Utah $81,190 $55,660 $127,740
Virginia $94,260 $62,000 $121,780
Vermont $78,320 $61,250 $102,060
Washington $99,330 $76,090 $126,940
Wisconsin $95,480 $61,790 $120,260
West Virginia $96,970 $68,930 $121,200
Wyoming $79,630 $75,320 $126,780

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2021 median salary; projected job growth through 2031. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.

Occupational Therapists

National data

Median Salary: $85,570

Projected job growth: 13.9%

10th Percentile: $60,680

25th Percentile: $75,710

75th Percentile: $100,490

90th Percentile: $123,840

Projected job growth: 13.9%

State data

State Median Salary Bottom 10% Top 10%
Alaska $99,340 $61,790 $121,060
Alabama $83,370 $49,600 $119,770
Arkansas $77,630 $47,200 $121,450
Arizona $80,690 $60,500 $127,110
California $100,510 $77,860 $130,790
Colorado $95,620 $72,930 $124,440
Connecticut $95,950 $72,340 $126,610
District of Columbia $78,430 $62,260 $127,410
Delaware $89,840 $59,660 $125,940
Florida $81,780 $61,000 $102,280
Georgia $79,240 $60,890 $115,060
Hawaii $93,980 $73,060 $127,110
Iowa $78,050 $60,460 $103,250
Idaho $78,180 $61,790 $100,640
Illinois $80,780 $48,710 $102,390
Indiana $78,670 $59,750 $121,060
Kansas $83,760 $59,330 $118,820
Kentucky $78,510 $59,440 $101,720
Louisiana $95,590 $61,340 $123,280
Massachusetts $95,870 $60,060 $121,090
Maryland $80,800 $58,990 $126,290
Maine $76,730 $60,010 $95,870
Michigan $77,750 $51,360 $100,510
Minnesota $77,910 $60,900 $99,620
Missouri $78,440 $48,590 $100,200
Mississippi $82,200 $60,640 $103,140
Montana $78,930 $61,030 $100,220
North Carolina $78,870 $60,060 $102,690
North Dakota $75,770 $59,770 $90,400
Nebraska $78,420 $60,680 $102,310
New Hampshire $79,100 $60,500 $100,590
New Jersey $99,340 $73,760 $129,670
New Mexico $89,110 $60,530 $160,690
Nevada $99,540 $77,160 $134,660
New York $92,420 $60,730 $127,350
Ohio $80,010 $59,810 $119,010
Oklahoma $90,330 $60,130 $126,780
Oregon $96,130 $75,490 $115,010
Pennsylvania $85,920 $60,900 $121,150
Rhode Island $95,870 $62,700 $124,370
South Carolina $94,980 $60,500 $118,300
South Dakota $75,570 $60,680 $99,040
Tennessee $92,320 $60,740 $104,760
Texas $95,590 $62,380 $128,160
Utah $81,630 $61,030 $126,570
Virginia $96,480 $62,750 $127,750
Vermont $77,750 $60,910 $99,230
Washington $97,120 $75,460 $118,300
Wisconsin $77,570 $58,410 $99,420
West Virginia $79,170 $47,450 $118,820
Wyoming $77,630 $48,400 $126,800

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2021 median salary; projected job growth through 2031. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.

What’s Next?


Physical Therapists

Occupational Therapists

  • Seek certification from the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties after meeting clinical practice requirements by working with patients in a specialty area, such as:
  • Geriatrics
  • Neurology
  • Orthopedics
  • Pediatrics
  • Sports
  • Women’s health
  • OTs can seek board certification in gerontology, mental health, pediatrics, or physical rehabilitation after meeting clinical practice requirements; or specialty certification in:
  • Driving
  • 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.