Explaining the Difference Between Occupational and Physical Therapy

Sep 25th, 2018 | by Ellen Seder
Ellen Seder

Ellen Seder

September 25th, 2018

Occupational therapy and physical therapy are often wrongly considered the same thing. While they do share some similarities, they differ in their approach to treatment. If you are trying to decide which type of therapy is right for your child, see below as we explain the difference between occupational and physical therapy:

Physical Therapy


Physical therapists focus on improving gross motor skills, which are those that need full body movement and involve the big muscles of the body to perform daily functions. These everyday functions include sitting upright, standing, walking, and running. It also includes hand-eye coordination and ball skills. Without gross motor skills, children will have trouble playing with friends at the playground, playing sports, or just moving around. Physical therapists are trained in the treatment of children who have difficulty moving as a result of an injury or disability. They will often develop a specialized treatment program based on the specific conditions of their patient. The treatment will be geared towards improving their patient’s ability to move and preventing worsening conditions from developing in the future. Physical therapy techniques can also decrease pain and restore the function of muscles. This type of therapy can even eliminate the need for expensive surgery or medication in the future.

Occupational Therapy


On the other hand, occupational therapists focus on improving fine motor skills, which involve using the smaller muscle of the hands. Fine motor skills are vital for a child to perform their daily self-care and academic tasks. Self-care tasks can include brushing teeth, getting dressed, opening their lunchbox, and eating. Academic tasks include such things as using scissors, drawing, typing, and writing. The conditions requiring occupational therapy usually derive from physical or behavioral disabilities as well as injuries. Treatment will include functional activities, in an effort to enhance visual, cognitive, and coordination skills. The goal is to help your child flourish while doing activities associated with being a kid: learning, playing, and growing.



Physical and occupational therapy are similar in that they are both recommended forms of treatment for a child living with a disability or suffering from an injury. Both physical therapy and occupational therapy can help your child perform the self-care act of getting dressed. This is because physical therapy will improve balance, while occupational therapy will improve their ability to use their hands to put on their clothes. In addition, gross motor skill development is essential to performing certain tasks requiring fine motor skills, such as writing or using scissors. To illustrate, your child will need to have the gross motor skill of sitting upright before completing these tasks. Both types of therapy also educate children on the healing process and tactics to avoid further injuries. It is important to work with a professional to figure out which form of therapy is right for your child, as each will cater to their specific needs.

How NAPA Center Can Help

At NAPA Center, we take an individualized approach to therapy because we understand that each child is unique with very specific needs. We embrace differences with an understanding that individualized programs work better. For this reason, no two therapeutic programs are alike. If your child needs our services, we will work closely with you to select the best therapies for them, creating a customized program specific to your child’s needs and your family’s goals. Let your child’s journey begin today by contacting us to learn more.

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