Occupational Therapy vs Physiotherapy: What’s the Difference?

In the realm of rehabilitative and therapeutic professions, two disciplines often stand out: occupational therapy and physiotherapy. While they share common goals of helping individuals lead healthy and productive lives, they approach these goals from different angles. This article aims to shed light on these two vital professions, highlighting their similarities, differences, and how they work together to provide comprehensive care.

What is Physiotherapy?

Physiotherapy, also known as physical therapy, is a healthcare profession dedicated to the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of physical disabilities, injuries, or illnesses. Physiotherapists, or physios, utilise a variety of techniques such as manual therapy, exercise prescription, and electrotherapy to restore, maintain, and maximise a patient’s strength, function, movement, and overall well-being. See our physiotherapy services here.

Physiotherapy is often sought for conditions that affect the musculoskeletal, respiratory, and neurological systems. From sports injuries and post-operative rehabilitation to chronic diseases like arthritis and asthma, physiotherapy plays a crucial role in managing a wide range of conditions. The ultimate goal of physiotherapy is to enhance an individual’s ability to perform and enjoy everyday activities without pain or physical limitations.

What is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy (OT), on the other hand, is centred on improving a person’s ability to perform activities of daily living (ADLs). Occupational therapists focus on enabling individuals to live independently and have productive, satisfying lives. This is achieved by helping individuals develop, recover, or maintain daily living and work skills. Part of this might involve performing a home assessment and issuing equipment or aids to assist a patient with their ADLs.

Occupational therapists work with people of all ages who have physical, sensory, or cognitive problems. They help patients with tasks such as dressing, cooking, eating, and even complex activities like using a computer or managing time effectively. The ultimate goal of occupational therapy is to help individuals lead independent, productive, and satisfying lives.

Key Differences Between Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy

While both physiotherapy and occupational therapy aim to improve the quality of life, they focus on different aspects of health and well-being. Physiotherapy is primarily concerned with physical function and movement. It focuses on gross motor skills, which involve the large muscles used for activities like walking, standing, and maintaining balance.

Occupational therapy, however, focuses more on fine motor skills and cognitive functioning. Fine motor skills involve smaller muscle groups and are necessary for tasks like writing, buttoning clothes, or manipulating small objects. Occupational therapists also address cognitive issues that affect a person’s ability to perform daily tasks, such as problem-solving, memory, and attention.

The Overlap Between Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy

Despite their differences, physiotherapy and occupational therapy often overlap in practice. For instance, a person recovering from a stroke might need a physiotherapist to regain strength and balance, and an occupational therapist to relearn how to dress, cook, or write. In many cases, these professionals work together to provide comprehensive care.

Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy: Working Together

The collaboration between physiotherapists and occupational therapists is crucial in providing holistic care. While a physiotherapist may help a patient regain the ability to walk, an occupational therapist would ensure the patient can perform their daily tasks, like cooking or dressing, independently. This collaborative approach ensures that all aspects of a patient’s well-being are addressed, leading to more effective and comprehensive care.

Choosing the Right Therapy for Your Needs

Choosing between physiotherapy and occupational therapy depends largely on an individual’s needs. If you’re dealing with a physical injury or condition that affects your movement or physical function, physiotherapy might be the right choice. However, if you’re struggling with daily tasks due to physical, cognitive, or sensory issues, occupational therapy could be more beneficial. In many cases, a combination of both therapies may be the best approach. It’s always advisable to consult with healthcare professionals to determine the most suitable therapy for your specific needs.


While occupational therapy and physiotherapy may seem similar at first glance, they each offer unique approaches to care that cater to different needs. Physiotherapy is primarily concerned with enhancing physical function and movement, while occupational therapy focuses on enabling individuals to perform daily tasks independently and effectively. Despite their differences, these two professions often work together, providing comprehensive and holistic care to individuals of all ages.


Q: Can a patient receive both physiotherapy and occupational therapy? A: Yes, many patients benefit from a combination of both therapies. The two professions often work together to provide comprehensive care.

Q: How do I know if I need occupational therapy or physiotherapy? A: The choice between occupational therapy and physiotherapy depends on your specific needs. If you’re dealing with physical limitations, physiotherapy might be the right choice. If you’re struggling with daily tasks due to physical, cognitive, or sensory issues, occupational therapy could be more beneficial. It’s always best to consult with a healthcare professional for advice.

Q: Do physiotherapy and occupational therapy require a referral? A: This depends on your location and healthcare system. In some cases, a referral from a doctor may be required. It’s best to check with your healthcare provider or insurance company.

References and Further Reading

For those interested in learning more about occupational therapy and physiotherapy, the following resources may be helpful:

  1. The Role of a Physiotherapist
  2. Understanding Occupational Therapy
  3. How Physiotherapy Can Help You
  4. The Benefits of Occupational Therapy

Remember, whether you’re considering physiotherapy, occupational therapy, or both, it’s important to consult with healthcare professionals to ensure you’re receiving the best care for your specific needs.

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