Differences between Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy


Most Workers Comp Injuries Require Physical Therapy
To people who are not in the medical field, there is often confusion between physical therapy and occupational therapy.  People often think injured employees will have “occupational” therapy as the injury arose out of their occupation.  While there are some instances where an injured employee will need occupational therapy, in most workers’ compensation claims, the injured employee needs physical therapy, not occupational therapy.  While physical therapists and occupational therapists deal with many medical issues outside of workers’ compensation, this discussion will be limited to therapy treatment related to workers’ compensation.
Physical Therapy Restores Musculoskeletal System
Physical therapy is a medical service designed to develop, maintain or restore the injured employee’s musculoskeletal system.  When a treating physician refers an injured employee to a physical therapist, the physician will specify the anticipated number of physical therapy sessions needed to restore the employee to the maximum level of recovery. 
Upon the receipt of a new physical therapy prescription for the employee, the therapist will schedule the first visit.  At the first visit and in subsequent physical therapy sessions the therapist will:
·             Examine the employee’s body part needing therapy
·             Measure and test the employee’s
o   Strength
o   Range of motion
o   Balance, if applicable
o   Coordination
o   Muscle performance
o   Posture, if applicable
·             Develop a treatment plan to accomplish the physician’s goal in the allotted number of sessions
·             Provide exercises to improve muscle strength, range of motion and muscle performance
·             Provide traction and/or deep tissue massage, if needed
·             Provide cold compresses or hot packs, if needed
·             Provide ultrasound treatment or electrical stimulation, if needed
Goal to Improve Movement Dysfunctions
The overall goal of physical therapy is the improvement of an injured employee’s movement dysfunctions and returning the injured employee to the maximum level of musculoskeletal function.
Occupational Therapy Trains To Improve Functional Abilities
Occupational therapy is medical services designed to train and educate an injured person in how to modify their physical environment to improve their functional abilities. Often the occupational therapist will provide instruction on how to use durable medical equipment (prosthetics, crutches and wheelchairs) to increase the employee’s functioning.  The occupational therapist will evaluate the injured employee’s needs and will design a program to overcome the employee’s medical related deficiencies and improve the injured employee’s ability to perform the daily activities of their life.  The occupational therapist will teach the injured employee how to adapt to their physical limitations caused by the work injury.
Teaches to Adapt to Physical Limitations
In addition to teaching an injured employee how to adapt to their new physical limitations, an occupational therapist will often teach the employee on how to prevent and avoid injuries. The occupational therapist will recommend to the injured employee equipment, gadgets and devices that are designed to increase the employee’s safety and increase the employee’s functional ability.
Best Outcome When Physical and Occupational Therapist Work Together
While there can be overlap between the activities of a physical therapist and an occupational therapist, the best outcome for the injured employee is when the occupational therapist and the physical therapist work together.  For example:  An employee is involved in a horrific accident that leaves the employee a paraplegic. The physical therapist will work extensively with the employee to maximize the employee’s remaining functioning of their musculoskeletal system.  The occupational therapist will be brought in to train the employee in how to perform life functions from the confines of a wheelchair.
Author Rebecca Shafer, JD, President of Amaxx Risk Solutions, Inc. is a national expert in the field of workers compensation. She is a writer, speaker, and publisher. Her expertise is working with employers to reduce workers compensation costs, and her clients include airlines, healthcare, printing/publishing, pharmaceuticals, retail, hospitality, and manufacturing. She is the author of the #1 selling book on cost containment, Workers Compensation Management Program: Reduce Costs 20% to 50%. Contact:RShafer@ReduceYourWorkersComp.com
Editor Michael B. Stack, CPA, Director of Operations, Amaxx Risk Solutions, Inc. is an expert in employer communication systems and part of the Amaxx team helping companies reduce their workers compensation costs by 20% to 50%. He is a writer, speaker, and website publisher. www.reduceyourworkerscomp.com. Contact: mstack@reduceyourworkerscomp.com
©2012 Amaxx Risk Solutions, Inc. All rights reserved under International Copyright Law.  

Do not use this information without independent verification. All state laws vary. You should consult with your insurance broker, attorney, or qualified professional about workers comp issues.

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