Debunked: Physical vs. Occupational Therapy

Posted On March 1, 2019

Even if we are familiar with physical and occupational therapy, sometimes understanding which will be most useful for your child is not straightforward. Many believe that occupational therapy deals with fine motor skills while physical therapy deals with gross motor skills. While you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong in thinking that, we often don’t realize the overlap between the two, not to forget that each has complex layers. We are pulling our magnifying glasses out to take a close look at each occupation, just like detectives!  

Similar, but not Twins

We can call physical therapy and occupational therapy sisters as long as we remember that each is unique, differentiated, and certainly not identical. One of the most prominent commonalities is that both therapies deal with child development and how the body moves. With that in mind, working with childhood disabilities, discomforts, and preventing problems from worsening is a must for both fields. The incorporation of client education and practice with new tools for home is valuable for a successful outcome.

Physical and occupational therapy tend to go hand in hand as well. A child will need to know how to utilize gross motor skills such as sitting upright before they can accomplish daily tasks with fine motor skills like creating a Valentine’s Day card for Mom. When practicing tasks that incorporate movement, your kiddos will be well on their way to easier living.

Occupational Therapy

Physical Therapy is Not Gross… But Also, it is

We don’t mean gross like pee-yew gross. We mean gross as in physical therapy is most likely to integrate gross motor skills (utilizing the big muscles) comprehensively. Working with these skills includes muscular function while running, walking, and even sitting upright. In babies, this involves motions like rolling, sitting, walking, and crawling. All of these described movements require abdominal strength and stabilization.

Physical therapists tend to focus on “range of motion,” and building strength, flexibility, body awareness, balance, posture, gait, and orthotics training. We’re aiming to improve your kiddo’s daily functions and to prevent worsening symptoms from developmental delays, movements such as walking and posture, and torticollis. In our office, we often work to balance muscles and joints with posture and gait exercises.

Physical therapy can even address more subtle issues such as motions with the neck. Torticollis is a prime example as it deals with neck motion and muscle weakness. No matter the cause, we can see kiddos from mild to severe symptoms. Our ultimate goal is to give kids the extra support they need to go the extra mile. If we assist with running, we aim to have the child run faster with better posture.

Occupational Therapy

Occupational Therapy at Its Finest

Although physical and occupational therapy both work to improve function in daily lives, occupational therapy focuses on the implementation of daily tasks into real-life settings. Physical therapy complements occupational therapy because gross motor skills are important foundations for fine motor skills (utilizing small muscles). For example, occupational therapy will better self-care skills, but in order to complete a task, your kiddo needs the ability to stand steady on two legs or sit up such as with eating or getting dressed. In this way, occupational therapy integrates gross motor skills into sessions. However, fine motor skill improvement, like with handwriting, is likely seen with occupational therapy over physical therapy.

With occupational therapy, it includes more than hand, wrist, and finger coordination. Remember that occupational therapy encourages practice with “career” aspects of daily, routine life. Skills like these include:

  • Sensory Skills and Development
  • Behavioral Skills
  • Social Skills
  • Self-Regulation
  • Cognitive Skills (ex: attention)
  • Bilateral Integration (using both sides of the body for activities like getting dressed)
  • Visual Perception

While it’s true that kiddos do not yet have an occupation, they do have a big duty to explore their world by learning and playing. An occupational therapist will maximize your child’s ability so they can thrive in similar environments across the board. Keeping the key details explained here in mind, you’ll have no problem knowing the differences between physical and occupational therapy.

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy can include feeding therapy as a specialty, which we are now offering. We have speech therapy too!  contact us today.

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