Keeping PACE – What’s the difference?

PT vs OT blog

Two of the more common rehabilitation services are Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy. These rehab therapies might be appropriate pre-surgery, post-surgery, or in hopes to avoid surgery. They can be effective treatment to help reduce pain, restore or improve function and maintain or improve quality of life. I connected with Kerri De Jonge, PT, DPT (Physical Therapist) and Patrick Myers, OTR (Occupational Therapist) to discuss the differences (and similarities) between the two service types. Kerri and Patrick are Discipline Experts in their respective fields at Senior Care Partners PACE in Battle Creek and Albion.

RYAN: What is the difference between Physical Therapy (PT) and Occupational Therapy (OT)?

KERRI: Physical therapy focuses on mobility: The ability to walk and move throughout the day. PT works on strength, balance, pain management, fall prevention, post hospitalization/surgery interventions, etc. PT also works with individuals and recommends appropriate durable medical equipment: wheelchairs, walkers, braces, etc.

PATRICK: In general, PT focuses on movement and the body’s ability to move whereas OT focuses on improving or maintaining the ability to complete functional tasks such as dressing or bathing.


RYAN: Do Physical Therapists and Occupational Therapists work together or work with the same patients? If so, could you share an example of how/why?

KERRI: PT and OT can collaborate on a case-by-case basis to provide participant centered treatment sessions to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of assisting a patient towards their rehab goals. PT and OT can complete evaluations and care giver training to best capture each patient’s needs and ensure collaboration across a healthcare team and multiple disciplines. PT and OT also work together towards functional mobility: dressing, balance, ROM, cognitive processing, and sequencing.


RYAN: If someone thinks they might need PT or OT, what should they do?

PATRICK: In the community, PT and OT typically start with a doctor referral.  The best way to get established with a rehab program would be to communicate with your Primary Care Physician (PCP).


RYAN: What are some reasons that someone would be more likely to need PT or OT as they age?

KERRI: Physical Therapy can assist individuals with strengthening, balance, fall risk, endurance, walking, pain management, following surgery, and a variety of other ailments. As individuals age, all of these areas can impact overall quality of life, causing an increased risk for injury, hospitalization, and dependency for care.

PATRICK: With aging, a myriad of issues can arise that impact our abilities to complete tasks at our highest level of function.  OT can assist with maintaining or improving these areas of concern by creating a specific program targeting those tasks that can become more difficult as we age.


RYAN: What does PT and OT consist of for the patient?

KERRI: Your physical therapy is really going to depend on what issues you are dealing with. Even with similar injuries or issues, individual bodies can respond differently. PT often consists of exercise and education. It can also include manual therapy, traction, and therapeutic activities. Therapeutic Activities in PT are sometimes referred to as your “ING” things – squatting, walking, bending, pushing, pulling, and more.

PATRICK: OT can assist with improving activities of daily living (ADLs).  What that means is anything from dressing to bathing to preparing meals.  ADLs are routine tasks that most healthy people are able to complete without requiring assistance. The inability to accomplish such tasks can lead to a decreased quality of life.


RYAN: How would one know if the rehab is working or helping?

KERRI: It is crucial to develop goals with the Physical Therapist you are working directly with to ensure treatments are focused around goals that are measurable and attainable. Your PT will work with you and track progress regularly. Treatments will be adjusted as your sessions progress to ensure skilled physical therapy is the correct plan of care.

PATRICK: I would say that when an individual starts completing tasks they were not able to prior to the start of OT or they are completing those daily tasks with greater ease that is a good indicator that it is working.


RYAN: What factors should someone consider when selecting a Physical Therapist or Occupational Therapist to work with? Or do they all essentially do the same things?

KERRI: All Physical Therapist must hold an active license in the state in which they practice. Some Physical Therapists also hold additional certifications or specialize in particular conditions, treatments or parts of the body. Therefore, it is important to do some research as to what additional training each Physical Therapist holds. This will vary by each therapist, location, and company.

PATRICK: Occupational Therapists can specialize in various areas from Parkinson’s disease to hand therapy to pediatrics, so it would be beneficial to work with your PCP office to ensure you select the most appropriate rehab setting.


Thank you to Kerri and Patrick for sharing their expert advice on this month’s subject. As with any healthcare advice, please consult with a licensed medical professional before making changes to your health regimen or treatment plan.

Author(s): Ryan Miller, Associate Director of Marketing & Enrollment at Senior Care Partners PACE with Kerri De Jonge, PT, DPT (Physical Therapist) and Patrick Myers, OTR (Occupational Therapist) of Senior Care Partners PACE.

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