Western New York’s Occupational Therapy Resource

Occupational Therapy vs Physical Therapy

Buffalo Occupational Therapy


Occupational Therapy | Buffalo NY | Buffalo OT

Michelle Eliason, MS, OTR/L, C.D.S., CKTS


Occupational therapy vs Physical Therapy or OT vs PT is an important discussion because not many people understand the difference. Physical therapy is very straightforward. One hears ‘physical’ therapy  and automatically assumes PT handles anything and everything physical while OT works with children or helps  an individual find a job. Occupational therapy does do those things, but OT is also trained to work with physcial rehabiliation and physical anatomy.

Rehabilitation Science is an integrative approach to healing. The overall science is comprised of many various disciplines in which most therapists are educated to some extent. Rehabilitation Science and it’s disciplines are overlapping in many ways in order to offer a most holistic approach. Rehabilitation science consists of movement science, occupational science, rehabilitation health science, rehabilitation technology, Cognitive-rehabilitation, and speech-language pathology. (1) Occupational therapists, physical therapipsts, and speech-language pathologists are all valuable to the profession.


Occupational therapy is a holistic and generalist discipline, educated to treat individuals newborn throughout the aging process. The term ‘occupational’ is often times misleading as many individuals equate the root ‘occupation’ with employment. Occupation, in terms of therapeutic intervention, is anything a person does in the course of their day that creates meaning. This can range from hygiene and other activities of daily living, to remaining in their homes, to being able to continue meaningful hobbies despite perceived medical set-backs. Grounded and born during the world wars postured to assist mental health, occupational therapy has shifted to demonstrate growth and undisputed value within the medical model. Occupational therapy not only has education and training in mental health, cognitive-behavioral, and neuro-cognitive training, but occupational therapists are also thoroughly trained in physical rehabilitative approaches such as joint replacements, balance, effective mobility and transfers, and much more. Occupational therapists, physical therapists, and speech-language pathologists share pieces of the same lexicon.

Physical therapy is grounded in movement science, educated to treat individuals newborn throughout the aging process. Physical therapists work with individuals experiencing “medical problems or other health-related conditions that limit their abilities to move and perform functional activities in their daily lives”.  Physical therapists use “techniques to promote the ability to move, reduce pain, restore function, and prevent disability as well as “prevent the loss of mobility before it occurs by developing fitness- and wellness-oriented programs for healthier and more active lifestyles” (2)

Occupational therapy and physical therapy  compliment and enhance one another’s treatment plans.  Neither discipline is superior, but both require extensive schooling and knowledge of the human anatomy, muscles, and nerve innervations. In terms of curricula, if you were to compare occupational therapy vs physical therapy, there are few differences. Where occupational therapy focuses on cognition/neurorehabiliation, physical therapists focus on exercise science and how movement applies to the rehabilitative process–these specialty classes make up about 16-24 credit hours in a 200+ credit hour program.

As stated occupational therapy is a generalist/holistic practice vs physical therapy’s specific focus on movement. Occupational therapy is not yet a doctorate program, although this is set to change by 2022; Physical therapy is a docorate program and requires 2 additional clinical experiences.


Michelle Eliason, MS, OTR/L, C.D.S, CKTS  is both an occupational therapist and CARES Dementia Specialist. She has been an elder care professional for 7+ years. Working in various aspects of the elder care industry has given her a generalist skill set and a broad knowledge base of elder care approaches and resources. Michelle is passionate about influencing the elder care industry advocating against nursing home negligence and elder abuse, and working with older adults to enable them to live in their own homes throughout the aging process.

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