Occupational therapists treat patients with injuries, illnesses, or disabilities through the therapeutic use of everyday activities. They help these patients develop, recover, and improve the skills needed for daily living and working.
Occupational therapists typically do the following:
- Observe patients doing tasks, ask the patient questions, and review the patient's medical history
- Use the observations, answers, and medical history to evaluate the patient's condition and needs
- Establish a treatment plan for patients, laying out the types of activities and specific goals to be accomplished
- Help people with various disabilities with different tasks, such as helping an older person with poor memory use a computer, or leading an autistic child in play activities
- Demonstrate exercises that can help relieve pain for people with chronic conditions, such as joint stretches for arthritis sufferers
- Evaluate a patient’s home or workplace and identify how it can be better suited to the patient’s health needs
- Educate a patient’s family and employer about how to accommodate and care for the patient
- Recommend special equipment, such as wheelchairs and eating aids, and instruct patients how to use that equipment
- Assess and record patients’ activities and progress for evaluating clients, for billing, and for reporting to physicians and other healthcare providers
Patients with permanent disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, often need help performing daily tasks. Therapists show patients how to use appropriate adaptive equipment, such as leg or knee braces, wheelchairs, and eating aids. Patients can function independently and control their living environment by using these devices.
Some occupational therapists work in educational settings with children one on one or in small groups. They evaluate disabled children’s abilities, modify classroom equipment to accommodate certain disabilities, and help children participate in school activities.
Some therapists provide early intervention therapy to infants and toddlers who have, or are at risk of having, developmental delays.
Therapists who work with the elderly help their patients lead more independent and active lives. They assess the patient’s abilities and environment and make recommendations, such as using adaptive equipment or identifying and removing potential fall hazards in the home.
In some cases, occupational therapists help patients create functional work environments. They evaluate the work space, plan work activities, and meet with the patient’s employer to collaborate on changes to the patient’s work environment or schedule.
Occupational therapists also may work in mental health settings where they help patients who suffer from developmental disabilities, mental illness, or emotional problems. They help these patients cope with and engage in daily life by teaching skills such as time management, budgeting, using public transportation, and doing household chores. Additionally, therapists may work with individuals who have problems with drug abuse, alcoholism, depression, or suffer from other disorders.
Some occupational therapists—such as those employed in hospitals or physicians’ offices—work as part of a healthcare team, along with doctors, registered nurses, and other types of therapists. They also may oversee the work of occupational therapy assistants and aides. For more information, see the profile on occupational therapy assistants and aides.
Occupational therapists held about 108,800 jobs in 2010. Forty-eight percent of occupational therapists worked in offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologist or hospitals. Others worked in schools, nursing homes, and home health services in 2010:
|Hospitals; state, local, and private||27%|
|Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists||21|
|Nursing care facilities||9|
|Home health care services||7|
|Individual and family services||3|
Therapists spend a lot of time on their feet working with patients. They also may be required to lift and move patients or heavy equipment. Many work in multiple facilities and have to travel from one job to another.
Physical therapists, sometimes referred to as PTs, help people who have injuries or illnesses improve their movement and manage their pain. They are often an important part of rehabilitation and treatment of patients with chronic conditions or injuries.
Physical therapists typically do the following:
- Diagnose patients’ dysfunctional movements by watching them stand or walk and by listening to their concerns, among other methods
- Set up a plan for their patients, outlining the patient's goals and the planned treatments
- Use exercises, stretching maneuvers, hands-on therapy, and equipment to ease patients’ pain and to help them increase their ability to move
- Evaluate a patient’s progress, modifying a treatment plan and trying new treatments as needed
- Educate patients and their families about what to expect during recovery from injury and illness and how best to cope with what happens
Physical therapists provide care to people of all ages who have functional problems resulting from back and neck injuries; sprains, strains, and fractures; arthritis; amputations; stroke; birth conditions, such as cerebral palsy; injuries related to work and sports; and other conditions.
Physical therapists are trained to use a variety of different techniques—sometimes called modalities—to care for their patients. These techniques include applying heat and cold, hands-on stimulation or massage, and using assistive and adaptive devices and equipment.
The work of physical therapists varies with the type of patients they serve. For example, a patient suffering from loss of mobility due to Parkinson’s disease needs different care than an athlete recovering from an injury. Some physical therapists specialize in one type of care, such as pediatrics (treating children) or sports physical therapy.
Physical therapists work as part of a healthcare team, overseeing the work of physical therapist assistants and aides and consulting with physicians and surgeons and other specialists. Physical therapists also work at preventing loss of mobility by developing fitness- and wellness-oriented programs to encourage healthier and more active lifestyles. For more information, see the profiles on physical therapist assistants and aides and physicians and surgeons.
Physical therapists held about 198,600 jobs in 2010. Physical therapists typically work in private offices and clinics, hospitals, and nursing homes. They spend much of their time on their feet, being active. Some physical therapists are self-employed, meaning that they own or are partners in owning their practice.
As shown below, most physical therapists worked in offices of health practitioners or hospitals in 2010:
|Offices of health practitioners||37%|
|Hospitals; state, local, and private||28|
|Home health care services||10|
|Nursing and residential care facilities||7|
About 7 percent of physical therapists were self-employed in 2010.