Occupational therapy (OT) is a rehabilitative service that aims to make people as independent as possible. Occupational therapists, people who supply occupational therapy, provide these services in a variety of capacities and populations, including pediatrics, adults, geriatrics, and with people with psychiatric disorders. In occupational therapy, the term occupation refers to meaningful activities. Therefore, therapists utilize meaningful activities to make people independent.
For example, an elderly patient suffering a stroke may have difficulties with fine motor coordinations in one of their hands. An occupational therapist may use a meaningful activity, such as creating a collage of grandchildren to encourage the use of the patient's hands to work in cutting, organizing, and pasting the pictures onto a scrapbook. By doing this activity, fine motor skills are developed. If the problem is with strength in the same hand, physical therapy may be more relevant.
Occupational therapists are the experts in both physical treatment (e.g., with specialized bandaging and support methods) and assistive devices for lymphedema; this disorder is not musculoskeletal so it is less commonly addressed by physical therapists.
In contrast with physical therapy, which is often complementary, occupational therapy is less concerned with the function of musculoskeletal components and more with the performance of manual tasks. While some occupational and physical therapists practice independently, when physician-supervised, the relevant specialty is physical and rehabilitation medicine. Occupational medicine, however, is a public health subspecialty concerned with risks in the workplace.