Physical therapy (PT) and occupational therapy (OT) both can play important roles in an injured worker’s recovery and return-to-work plan. They are both services that fall under the practice area of Physical Medicine. And they are both minimally invasive, nonpharmacological, physical methods of rehabilitation.
However, PT and OT are each focused on specific goals within an injured worker’s recovery process. PT focuses on achieving optimal function with the patient, while OT focuses on the adaptation of the environment or task to make the patient as independent as possible.
Physical medicine services such as PT or OT can help patients achieve something called maximum medical improvement, or MMI.
For some patients, this means resuming their pre-injury level of function. For other patients, this means the gains are as good as possible and they may never regain their pre-injury level of function.
For these patients, PT and OT can be useful in helping a patient adjust to their new normal.
Physical medicine can also be a good alternative or supplement to pain medications.
This is especially true in patients who are candidates for opioids.
Physical medicine can help shorten recovery time and prevent injuries from becoming chronic.
The effectiveness of physical medicine services such as PT or OT on injured worker recovery can vary greatly by patient depending on a number of factors that include, among others:
For these reasons, following a one-size-fits-all model for physical or occupational therapy is typically not clinically or cost effective, and can result in overutilization or wasteful PT or OT services on a workers’ compensation claim.
Assessing factors such as injured worker adherence to therapy, patterns in concurrent pharmacotherapy, progress being made toward certain treatment goals or milestones, or certain clinical measures, can help determine whether the patient is deriving continued benefit from PT or OT.