Living Well: How PT, OT work together to help Memorial Regional Health patients heal |

Living Well: How PT, OT work together to help Memorial Regional Health patients heal

Memorial Regional Health/For Craig Press
Occupational therapists and physical therapists often work side-by-side to provide patient-centered care at Memorial Regional Health.
Memorial Regional Health/courtesy

How much do you know about occupational therapy and physical therapy? While they are both rehabilitation services, physical therapy focuses on regaining physical function, and OT focuses on helping people carry out daily living tasks, such as dressing, cooking, cleaning, shopping, driving and so on. Both therapies are often critical after major surgery or an illness that limits bodily or brain function.

As you may imagine, there is sometimes an overlap between the two; in reality, this overlap is beneficial, as each discipline approaches patient care in a different way. For example, with a hip replacement, a physical therapist works on ambulation, muscle strengthening and balance, while an occupational therapist works on teaching patients how to dress with limited movement, deciding what supportive equipment they need during recovery and adapting their dressing, bathing, toileting and grooming habits during recovery. As patients progress, OTs can address higher-level tasks, such as cooking and cleaning.

“OTs and PTs work really well together, because we both help patients achieve their goals. For example, a big goal for a lot of patients is to walk again. Physical therapists will address this goal by focusing on muscle strength, balance, gait pattern and endurance for walking. Occupational therapists will practice functional mobility with the patient and perform different activities, such as obtaining items from cabinets in order to challenge the patient’s balance for walking,” said Susan Jones, MS, OTR/L, occupational therapist with Memorial Regional Health.

All therapy disciplines work together to help find the meaning behind the healing process. For example, PTs work on helping a person relearn to walk, and OTs helps the patient return to their daily occupations with as much independence as possible. OTs and PTs write goals together with the patient, as this is the optimal way to achieve success in therapy.

“PTs focus on the biomechanical aspects of getting a patient moving. We work on using that movement to help them carry out activities they want to do,” Jones said.

Stroke is one area in which the two therapies consistently collaborate. During a stroke, brain cells die from lack of oxygen caused by a ruptured or blocked artery in the brain. When this happens, the brain must establish new paths for carrying out all kinds of functioning. PTs and OTs work together to address issues, such as weakness on one side of the body or the inability to walk or move limbs, and get stroke patients back to completing tasks as independently as possible.

For example, occupational therapists help stroke patients adapt how they do things. They also coach patients in how to use adaptive equipment, such as sliding boards for toilet transfers and bedside commodes. They also play a role in long-term care planning. Physical therapists, on the other hand, focus on helping patients improve balance, walk and regain strength following a stroke.

“Maybe a patient needs to learn techniques of how to get dressed one-handed or how to brush their teeth if they can’t get toothpaste on their tooth brush. OTs help with that,” Jones said.

If you face hospitalization for an injury, illness or surgery, don’t be surprised that your treatment plan involves both physical therapy and occupational therapy. The two provide well-rounded care to help you heal.

“Studies show patients have better outcomes and less readmission to the hospital if they actively participate with all therapy disciplines, including occupational therapy,” said Tracy Perish, BA, MS, OTR/L, occupational therapist with Memorial Regional Health.

To learn more about occupational therapy at Memorial Regional Health, visit or call 970-824-5992.


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