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PT vs OT

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Has your child has been recommended for therapy services and then asked if it was for physical or occupational therapy, but you weren’t sure? Not to worry! Physical and occupational therapy are very closely related services and sometimes complement one another. They almost have a brother and sister type of relationship. This post will discuss the difference between the two services and when you should refer for physical therapy, occupational therapy, or for both services.

In general, physical therapy helps you get to where you need to be, and occupational therapy helps you perform once you get there. Now, what do we mean by that?  Let’s give you a real-world example: Your child wants to color their coloring book at the desk in your kitchen. In order to get there, your child may need to mobilize to the kitchen, there may be stairs encountered or obstacles in the way. Your child may also need to navigate to other rooms for supplies, like crayons and pencils, and then carry those to the table. Once in the kitchen, they may need be able to sit in the chair at the table in order to get to the color book. Physical therapy would address any gross motor issues that would impact your child from reaching their destination or impact their gross mobility. Now, maybe your child has reached the kitchen table with no problems at all, but now has difficulty with grasping the objects required to color the book, is unable to plan their steps to color the pages, or is affected by the different sensations presented during color, like the texture of the pages or the feeling of the crayon. Occupational therapy would help address fine motor issues, sensory related deficits, and cognitive deficits that impact them during activities of daily living. Let’s take a closer look at PT vs OT:

When to Refer for Physical Therapy
If your child presents with one or more of the following, PT services may be warranted:

  • Gross Motor delays or deficits
  • Impaired range of motion of trunk and extremities
  • Weakness of extremities or core, more specifically related to gross motor skills
  • Poor posture or postural control
  • Delay of developmental milestones acquisition
  • Balance & coordination deficits
  • Impaired functional mobility
  • Gait impairments or requires orthotics and assistive devices for gait

Occupational Therapy & When to Refer
If your child presents with one or more of the following, OT services may be warranted:

  • Fine Motor delays or deficits
  • Difficulty with self-Care skills (ex. feeding, dressing, toileting)
  • Delay of developmental milestones acquisition
  • Upper body weakness, more specifically related to fine motor skills
  • Difficulty with self-regulation and sensory integration
  • Impaired handwriting Skills
  • Provided with adaptive Equipment/durable medical equipment

You may notice some overlap between the two disciplines and that’s because sometimes a child who presents with several impairments may benefit from receiving both services. Your therapist performing an initial examination may refer you to the other discipline if both services are warranted. An example is a child with significant development delay who has poor sitting balance and needs to work on core strengthening but is also having difficulty with grasping objects for play.

Talk to your pediatrician if you have concerns regarding your child’s development and if therapy services are recommended. You can schedule a free screening with Triumph Pediatric Center with one of our therapists today!

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Editorial Team

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