What is the difference between physical therapy and rehabilitation therapy?

Physical therapy is often confused with rehabilitation therapy, but it’s important to know the difference, particularly when you’re searching for pain relief. Physical therapy and rehabilitation therapy each serve a different purpose and both are equally important, but they are definitely not the same. If you’re searching for pain relief from chronic pain issues, like back pain, sports injuries, whiplash, neuropathy, and other chronic issues, a physical therapist can offer the relief you’ve been looking for. Sometimes physical therapy can be an effective follow-up to rehabilitation therapy, as in the case of car accident injuries and stroke recovery.

If you happen to live in North Jersey, you won’t have to search any further for physical therapy as Oakland Spine & Physical Therapy offers four convenient locations in Closter, Fair Lawn, Wayne and Oakland, New Jersey. Each location is staffed by highly educated and experienced physical therapists equipped with the skills necessary to guide you through your healing process.

What is Physical Therapy?

Physical therapy is a complementary form of healthcare that aims to relieve pain, improve strength, flexibility, balance, and range of motion, while helping patients manage chronic conditions or heal from an acute injury or physical change. Physical therapists are required to be licensed and have completed advanced degrees in order to effectively treat patients. A physical therapist helps with such a variety of conditions; in a single day they could help a patient regain the use of their limbs after a stroke, assist an amputee with adjusting to a prosthetic limb, provide exercises to prevent an elderly person from falling, and help a person with arthritis reduce their need for pain medication.

What are the benefits of physical therapy?

Physical therapy can help patients avoid the need for potentially dangerous and addictive opioid painkillers and in some cases can even help to prevent the need for surgery. Physical therapy promotes the strengthening of muscles and better balance and greater flexibility, helping patients to prevent further injury.

What can I expect from physical therapy sessions?

At your physical therapy appointment, you may find yourself learning customized exercises designed to address your particular injury or condition. A physical therapist will guide you through these movements to ensure you get the most out of them. This will help you to better perform these movements at home. Your physical therapy session may also include manual massage and the application of hot, cold, and mild targeted electrical currents which stimulate healing.

Understanding Rehabilitation Therapy

Think of rehabilitation therapy as an umbrella term for a variety of healthcare processes which help a patient recover from an injury, such as a car accident or a medical condition like a stroke for instance. Physical therapy can be one part of rehabilitation therapy. Other types of therapy may be occupational, speech, and language therapy. Rehabilitation therapy focuses on acute conditions and in many instances will be initiated in a hospital setting. Take for instance the stroke patient we previously mentioned. After the initial treatment and stabilization occurs, the stroke patient will be admitted into rehabilitation therapy, which can begin within 24 hours of being admitted to the hospital. Rehabilitation therapy will be intensive, usually occurring every day while the patient is still in the hospital and will comprise both physical therapy and occupational and speech therapy.

Key Differences Between Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Therapy


Physical therapy is focused on key parts of the body’s function, such as mobility, balance and range of motion. To achieve these goals, physical therapy uses targeted exercises, manual techniques and hot/cold techniques to strengthen and improve the body’s functions.

In contrast rehabilitation therapy is a multi-prong approach that includes both physical therapy as well as other interventions like speech therapy and occupational therapy to provide patients with the ability to resume an independent lifestyle.

Who Provides Care

Rehabilitation therapy combines multiple disciplines into one comprehensive recovery program, and therefore includes physical therapies as well as occupational therapists, and when necessary speech/language therapists. Since physical therapy focuses on one facet of care, physical therapists are highly trained with advanced degrees in physiological care.

Where Therapy is Provided

Since physical therapy is less intensive and can be used by patients of varying degrees of physical capability, this therapy often occurs in offices which are typically a cross between a doctor’s office and a gym, with exercise equipment, weights and bands utilized during therapy. Although rehabilitation therapy can also take place in similar outpatient clinics, it’s also found in hospitals and long-term care facilities where cognitive and medical care can also be provided in tandem to physical therapy.

Goals of Each

One of the most important differences to understand between rehabilitation therapy and physical therapy is the goals of each. Physical therapy addresses a wide range of issues, from carpal tunnel pain to stroke recovery, sports injuries to whiplash. You may not even realize a coworker or friend attends physical therapy appointments regularly. That’s because physical therapy can help with a wide range of conditions from serious recovery to minor pain issues. Rehabilitation therapy on the other hand is a more intensive option which focuses on addressing acute conditions which require a variety of therapies including physical and beyond. This type of regime is designed for more impactful conditions that require helping a patient to regain independence.

Personalized Care: Chiropractic Combines with Physical Therapy

If you have a chronic pain condition or a new injury, it’s beneficial to have it evaluated by a physical therapist. Although physical therapy is just one part of rehabilitation therapy, many times patients do not require the intense therapy of rehabilitation care. Instead, it may be worthwhile to consider combining your physical therapy with chiropractic care. Why? Because chiropractic complements physical therapy by first addressing misalignments which may be contributing to your pain or other issues. This allows physical therapy to be more effective in helping you to strengthen, stretch and balance better.

If you are looking for a way to recover from a sports injury, repetitive stress injury or condition such as arthritis or fibromyalgia, chiropractic care and physical therapy can both help your condition, lessening pain and helping you to regain the ability to do the things you love in life. If you live in North Jersey, consider reaching out to the distinguished physical therapy team at Oakland Spine & Physical Therapy. With four northern New Jersey locations in  Wayne, Closter, Fair Lawn,  and Oakland, New Jersey, there’s sure to be a convenient location nearby. Reach out to begin the healing process!