Occupational Therapy vs Physiotherapy – What’s the difference?

What’s the difference between physiotherapy vs occupational therapy? An occupational therapist gets you back to work, and a physiotherapist helps you recover from an injury, right?

Not entirely.

Physiotherapists (PT) and occupational therapists (OT) work with people to improve their quality of daily life, but both address different stages of treatment.

To say one of these types of therapies is “better” than the other or that one is “more important” than the other is like saying a car’s engine is more important than its tires or vice versa (you won’t get very far without either).

A better analogy for physiotherapy vs occupational therapy is that physiotherapy can help you walk to the kitchen, but occupational therapy will help you put together a hamburger.

What Are the Differences Between Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy?


Physiotherapy focuses on improving:

  • Motor skills
  • Movement
  • Function

A PT will usually use a wide range of stretches, exercises, and physical activities to achieve this.

In physiotherapy, the goal is simple: to help patients strengthen the injured joint, improve range of motion, and manage pain.

Most people associate physiotherapy with things like sports injuries, back pain, carpal tunnel, arthritis, or rehabilitation after surgery. However, in addition to those bone and muscle treatments, a PT focuses also on patients with cancer, cardiovascular conditions, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and other conditions.

Physiotherapy exercises typically include:

  • Manual therapy
  • Exercises for specific parts of the body
  • Activities involving the whole body
  • Hydrotherapy (also called aquatic therapy)
  • Education and advice


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Occupational Therapy

While physiotherapy is still relatively well-understood, occupational therapy still confuses most people. Let’s get this off the chest first – occupational therapy has nothing to do with workplace injuries. An OT may get you back to work, but we’ll get to that.

An OT focuses on helping you perform more complex activities of daily living.

That can mean anything from learning how to dress to eating with utensils. OTs will also help you streamline your home, work, or school environment more suited to your abilities – reducing the effort and frustration associated with performing day-to-day tasks.

Since patients (and their daily-living needs) are different, OTs must get creative with their exercise regimen. Exercises can include practicing:

  • Eating by yourself
  • Learning to self-bathe
  • Using the bathroom
  • Transferring from a wheelchair to the bed and vice versa
  • Continence training

Occupational therapy can include mental exercises too, such as puzzles, quizzes, and activities involving hand-eye coordination.

Physiotherapy vs Occupational Therapy: There Are More Similarities Than You Think

Though the two disciplines are talked about separately, both have many similarities:

  • Both help patients manage pain
  • They help you retain or recover movement
  • PTs and OTs can recommend assistive devices
  • Physiotherapy and occupational therapy are both regulated health care professions
  • Both physiotherapists and occupational therapists are university-educated professionals
  • PTs and OTs work in private and public care, like homes, clinics, hospitals, schools, and more


Ultimately, the goal is for both physiotherapy and occupational therapy to enable self-care, make you more productive, and allow you to partake in leisure activities.

For instance, a patient who’s recovering from a stroke and has suffered part paralysis in the body may work:

  • First with a physiotherapist to regain strength and mobility in that part of the body;
  • Then with an occupational therapist who’ll help them relearn how to use that part (like for writing).
Learn more:

  1. Physiotherapy vs Physical Therapy – What’s the Difference?
  2. The Difference Between Chiropractic And Physiotherapy Treatment

Difference Between Occupational Therapy and Physiotherapy and What it Means For You

difference between physiotherapy and occupational therapy

Both physiotherapy and occupational therapy help people regain, recover, and restore physical function. So should you visit a PT or OT for your ailment/injury?

In very simple terms, physiotherapy will help you regain gross motor function (joint motion, walking, muscle strength). Occupational therapy will help you with more specific issues such as shoulder tendonitis, shoulder bursitis, rotator cuff tear, carpal tunnel syndrome, and more.

Which one has a greater impact on your quality of life and which is right for you depends on the nature and severity of your ailment, as well as what you would like to achieve?

It’s why at White Pine Health we work with every patient to understand their goals and develop customized plans. Book your free 20-minute video or in-person consultation and tell us about your pain.

Tahmineh (Tammy) Kamza

Physiotherapist Dry Needling Provider Hydrotherapist   Tammy graduated from the University of Toronto with an “Honors in Science” and obtained her Doctorate in Physical Therapy in the United States. Her thesis, ‘Effects Of Exercise In Falls Prevention In Community-Dwelling Older Adults’ took almost 2 years to complete. She finished her manual therapy designations from trained professionals of St. Augustine University in Florida. Finally, got her Dry Needling certification from the prestigious organization Kinetacore, a leading post-graduate program in North America. Aside from manual therapy and dry needling, she is well versed in hydrotherapy, taping and corrective exercise. She is a true believer in active therapy, thus her treatment goals always include an emphasis on physical activity with aim of improving client’s functional abilities.

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