Most people have a pretty good general idea of what Physical Therapists do, but many people do not hear about Occupational Therapy until they need it.
The World Federation of Occupational Therapists states that, “Occupational therapy is as a profession concerned with promoting health and well being through occupation. The primary goal of occupational therapy is to enable people to participate in the activities of everyday life. Occupational therapists achieve this outcome by enabling people to do things that will enhance their ability to participate or by modifying the environment to better support participation.”
In an outpatient orthopedic setting, OTs typically treat upper extremity issues including the shoulders, elbows, wrists and hands, while PTs treat necks, backs, hips, knees and feet. OT focuses on fine motor skills and activities of daily living, such as dressing, self-care and grooming; home-management skills; and return to leisure activities such as golf. They also assess the need for adaptive equipment and they custom-make hand and wrist splints.
There is some overlap between PT and OT, particularly with treatment of the shoulder. Both disciplines are qualified to provide appropriate care of the upper extremities, and the referring physician usually specifies which discipline is preferred for the diagnosis. However, during consultation with the doctor, patients may specifically request a referral to OT services; this is common if a patient has previously had OT.
Some insurance plans do not cover OT services. In these cases, PT will provide all necessary care for upper extremity conditions.