Thursday, March 18, 2010

Occupational, physical therapists explain differences, work together

Do you know the difference between occupational therapy and physical therapy?

In the realm of treatment, there is often confusion between these two practices. During April’s Occupational Therapy Month, Bethesda’s health care providers are hoping to raise awareness about what makes the two unique and how they collaborate to provide the best possible care.

While physical therapy (PT) treats individuals who have movement dysfunction, usually resulting from an injury or illness, occupational therapy (OT) focuses on a patient’s ability to perform basic life skills, such as getting dressed and brushing their teeth.

‘‘We focus on the big picture,” said Stephanie McCorvey, a physical therapist at NNMC. ‘‘Can the patient stand up?”

Physical therapists, also called PTs, look at gross motor function, McCorvey said. They work to strengthen a patient’s balance, posture and flexibility. PTs provide various forms of treatment and exercises to restore mobility and flexibility in the area or areas where they have been affected by their injury or illness.

Occupational therapists, or OTs, also work with individuals who have suffered injury or illness. They provide treatment to those who, often because of their injury or illness, are experiencing dysfunction in their daily living activities.

‘‘Occupational therapists help individuals regain independence in tasks like bathing, dressing and grooming,” said Kristin Perilli, an OT at NNMC.

They also provide retraining in areas like home management, money management, meal preparation, driving and community reintegration, she said.

OTs and PTs are similar in that they can specialize in different types of care. For example, OTs can work specifically with hand rehabilitation, driver training evaluation, amputee retraining and traumatic brain injuries (TBI), while PTs can specialize in orthopedics, geriatrics and cardiovascular rehabilitation.

‘‘Regardless of the condition, occupational therapists take into consideration the various systems needed to participate in daily living,” Perilli said, including physical, cognitive and psychological functions.

At times, a patient’s basic life skills are compromised and cannot be remediated, she said, in which case, OTs teach the individual how to compensate for their limitations.

Both PTs and OTs often recommend a patient use adaptive equipment for safe mobility, such as wheelchairs, walkers and canes. However, OTs will suggest particular equipment for use at home, including shower seats, grab bars, dressing aids and ramps to increase the patient’s independence in self care tasks, Perilli said.

Though OT and PT use different forms of treatment and have different patient goals, they work together each day to provide patients with the best possible rehabilitation.

‘‘We look at the same thing, but we see it from different perspectives,” McCorvey said.

Together, they often ‘‘co-treat” patients, she said, examining a patient at the same time, but for different purposes.

‘‘I don’t think one could exist without the other,” Perilli said.

Lt. Col. K.C. Schuring is among the many patients who has benefited from both PT and OT at NNMC. Since he was wounded in 2006 in Iraq, he said, he has made great strides in his mobility and in basic life skills, such as getting dressed, doing laundry and going grocery shopping.

Schuring was an advisor to an Iraqi battalion when he was shot four times in the hip during an ambush. His most recent surgery was a hip replacement, he said.

‘‘I had to learn how to do things differently with an artificial hip,” he said.

In his hospital room lie several aids to help him with his daily living activities, including an extra long shoe horn and a ‘‘grabber,” he said, which helps him pick up items off the ground. If he drops a sock, he can’t fully bend over to pick it up – the simple tasks that people often take for granted.

‘‘You never know what it’s like until you have to live by those precautions,” he said.

Schuring expressed his appreciation for the entire PT and OT staff.

‘‘They’re awesome,” he said. ‘‘They are the reason I’m walking so well right now.”