Physical Therapy vs Occupational Therapy

By Jordan Fabel •  Updated: November 14, 2022  •  6 min read  •  Health
Approved Course is reader-supported. If you buy through links on our site, we may earn a small commission.

While both physical therapy and occupational therapy are rehabilitative disciplines, they are not exactly the same. Sometimes, they are used interchangeably. Both do require hands-on work, but these two professions are rather different.

If you want to go into a career to help others, physical therapy and occupational therapy offer two good options. Let’s look at what these both are and how they are different.

What is Physical Therapy?

According to, “Physical therapy is a healthcare specialty that includes the evaluation, assessment, and treatment of individuals with limitations in functional mobility.”

If you become a physical therapist, you will provide several different services. Your job will be to help assess the condition of patients and provide the right options to help restore mobility and independence.

What is Occupational Therapy? defines occupational therapy as, “a healthcare profession. It focuses on helping people do all the things that they want and need to do in their daily lives.”

A career in occupational therapy will have you helping people that have acquired a disability or have suffered a medical event. When they are going through their recovery process, you will help them get back to living their lives independently.

Physical Therapy vs Occupational Therapy: The Key Differences

Both physical therapy and occupational therapy offer a focus on the patient. However, there are a few main differences between these two types of therapy.

Type of Therapy Provided

Occupational therapy offers the right choice for patients looking to regain their ability to handle daily tasks on their own. This could include things, such as household tasks, hobbies, social tasks, and more.

Physical therapy, on the other hand, doesn’t focus much on the daily tasks, but instead on improving the mobility of patients. This includes exercises to help patients move their bodies and help to manage their pain.

Type of Patient

The type of patient each area focuses on is also a difference. Physical therapy will focus on patients that are recovering from injuries or medical events. Often, these patients are trying to regain mobility and the injuries can vary from minor to life-changing.

Occupational therapists will also work with those suffering from injuries. However, they will also work with patients suffering from developmental and cognitive disabilities. These disabilities often impact the emotions, motor skills, and behavior of the patients.

Those in need of help with tasks, such as taking a shower or getting dressed, need an occupational therapist. However, those trying to improve the movement of their shoulder after separating it, need a physical therapist.

Functions of the Job

While the skills necessary to be a physical therapist or occupational therapist do overlap, the functions they perform are different. It’s actually common for occupational therapy to include many physical therapy techniques. However, the job responsibilities will be different.

Responsibilities of Physical Therapy

Responsibilities of Occupational Therapy

Both physical therapists and occupational therapists may work in a variety of settings. It’s common for these two careers to include working in long-term care facilities, skilled nursing facilities, acute care, schools, and inpatient and outpatient settings.


While the education requirements are pretty similar between physical therapy and occupational therapy, the specialties are different. Both careers will likely require a doctorate degree. However, you can become an occupational therapist with a master’s degree.

Once you have your education, you will likely gain certifications in a specialty. The specialties are rather different for physical therapy vs occupational therapy.

Physical Therapy Specialties

Occupational Therapy Specialties

It’s pretty easy to see the differences between physical therapy and occupational therapy when you look at the specialties.


Both physical therapy and occupational therapy offer good annual salaries. According to, you can earn an average of $82K per year as a physical therapist. also puts the average salary for an occupational therapist at about $82K per year.

The differences in the salary are seen when you look at the experience and top employers. Occupational therapists tend to have the ability to earn a higher salary. Some of the top employers will pay more than $125K per year for an experienced occupational therapist.

While physical therapists can also earn more than $100K, the top employers tend to pay close to $115K per year. Even an experienced physical therapist will often earn a bit less than an experienced occupational therapist.

Going into a career in physical therapy or occupational therapy offers a rewarding option. Both provide good salaries, but they are very different. If you want to help others, either career might work well for you.

It will really come down to the type of work you want to do, the degree you want to get, and where you plan to work. Make sure you look at both physical therapy and occupational therapy closely before making your final decision.

Jordan Fabel

Jordan Fabel

Covering different 'paths' that people's lives can take. Creative, foster parent, ticket dismissal, you get the idea. Exploring the requirements, certifications, exams, and obviously, approved courses along each path.