What are the differences between occupational therapy, physical therapy and athletic training?

What are the differences between occupational therapy, physical therapy and athletic training?

In the realm of health care, numerous professions exist to improve individuals' quality of life and well-being. Three such professions that often intersect in the pursuit of enhancing physical health are occupational therapy (OT) and physical therapy (PT), and athletic training (AT). These fields share common goals, but they differ in educational requirements for licensure as well as their approaches, focuses and areas of practice.

Occupational therapy (OT)

Occupational Therapy, as defined by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), is a healthcare profession that helps individuals across the lifespan engage in meaningful activities or "occupations." OT practitioners, referred to as occupational therapists, work with clients who face physical, cognitive or psychosocial challenges, with the primary goal of enabling them to perform daily tasks independently.

Occupational therapists typically assess a client's abilities and limitations and develop customized intervention plans to improve their daily life skills. These interventions may include adaptive equipment, assistive technology and home modifications to enhance the patient's overall well-being.

Becoming a licensed OT in the United States involves a series of educational and licensure steps. The entry-level degree for licensure is a Master of Occupational Therapy degree that is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE). Upon graduation from an ACOTE-accredited program, aspiring OTs must pass The National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam.

Would you like to become an occupational therapist? Learn about Messiah University’s Master of Occupational Therapy degree at

Physical therapy (PT)

Physical Therapy, as described by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), focuses on helping individuals improve their physical function, mobility and quality of life. Physical therapists assess and treat a wide range of musculoskeletal and neuromuscular conditions, injuries and illnesses.

PTs employ various techniques, including manual therapy, exercises and therapeutic modalities, to promote recovery and restore optimal physical function. Their primary objective is to address issues related to pain management, strength, flexibility and movement to help patients regain their independence.

The entry-level degree to become a licensed PT in the United States is a Doctor of Physical Therapy accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). Upon graduation from a CAPTE-accredited program, aspiring PTs must pass The National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE).

Are you interested in becoming a physical therapist? Learn about Messiah University’s Doctor of Physical Therapy degree at

Athletic training (AT)

Athletic Training, as defined by the National Athletic Trainers' Association (NATA), revolves around the prevention, assessment and management of sports-related injuries and conditions. Athletic trainers, commonly found in the sports setting, play a crucial role in ensuring the safety and well-being of athletes. More than that, ATs are increasingly used in the performing arts and in industry and tactical professions.

ATs are responsible for the immediate care of injuries, emergency response, injury prevention and rehabilitation of physical injuries. They work closely with coaches and medical professionals in sports to provide a comprehensive approach to athletes' health care.

To become an athletic trainer in the United States you need a Master of Science in Athletic Training degree from a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE). After completing a CAATE-accredited master’s degree, you need to pass the Board of Certification (BOC) exam.

Would you like to become an athletic trainer? Learn about Messiah University’s athletic training program at


  • Occupational therapy focuses on helping individuals of all ages regain independence in daily activities.

  • Physical therapy concentrates on restoring physical function, mobility and pain management.

  • Athletic training primarily focuses on the prevention and management of sports- or physically demanding job-related injuries.