Two disciplines, occupational and physical therapy (OT / PT), offer unique treatment experiences for patients who may be interested in pelvic health services. For patients who have had therapy in the past for other ailments, they might have an idea of what and how PT and OT disciplines differ. Despite these differences, there are also many ways in which the disciplines complement one another.
Many people are familiar with physical therapy. Fewer are familiar with occupational therapy. Occupational Therapy was founded post-WWI when soldiers came back from war and resumed normalcy, but also had difficulty re-entering society due to trauma, either physical or mental. Since then, the OT discipline has grown to identify meaningful occupations in a patient’s life. The role of an OT can vary greatly depending on the setting. In the hospital, this might be instructing in bathing, showering and dressing techniques to simplify life. In an outpatient setting, this may be regaining arm movements and strength to dress, shower, perform toileting or carrying a baby. In pediatrics, this might be preparing handwriting for school or play. In an out-patient pelvic health setting, this might look like a return to intimacy (whatever that means to the patient), being able to void and have regular bowel movements on a toilet, or managing pelvic pain that is affecting the ability to exercise or go to work or school.
In the outpatient pelvic health setting, occupational therapists can focus on the relaxation phase, or what we call ‘down-regulation’ of the nervous system to allow the body to feel comfortable and relaxed to enhance further learning. Once we establish this rapport with a patient and build an environment of relaxation, we can progress to the next and somewhat more invasive techniques which may include internal and external manual therapy, similar to a pelvic floor physical therapist’s treatment.
Physical therapists are trained a bit differently, as they tend to focus more on the physical aspect of the body rather than the emotional, mental or spiritual. This is not to say that physical therapists do not focus on these other areas, but their training does not require this specialization like OT training does. Therefore, an appointment with a physical therapist may look a little differently and be more focused on
the physical aspect of the visit.
Together, occupational and physical therapists work to address the biological and psychosocial components of what makes the patient a person. Co-treatment can be utilized to allow for maximal healing. This means that a patient could be seen by two therapists in the practice, both addressing separate areas of the body, but with the same goal in mind; to improve a patient’s symptoms. The end result is a minimization of symptoms with a return to participation in the daily activities that give a patient’s life meaning.
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