A question that I regularly get asked is, “What is the difference between an Osteopath and a Physiotherapist?” So I thought that it would be a good idea to write a blog on this to hopefully clear this up.
Some people see Physio’s, some see Chiropractors, another person may choose to visit an Osteopath etc. Each to their own but what informs a person’s decision as to which way to go. I suspect that they don’t know what the differences are but they choose based on recommendation or previous experience and still don’t realise the similarities or differences. So today we will try to answer the question, “What is the difference between an Osteopath and a Physiotherapist?”
So what is Physiotherapy?
According to the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP), Physio helps to restore people’s function & movement related to injury, disability or illness. Physio can help all age groups from birth all the way to old age. Physiotherapists help people with exercise, movement, manual therapy, education & advice to either maintain or improve health, helping to manage pain & prevent disease & injury. Physiotherapy facilitates and encourages recovery to normal function enabling people to stay in work and assisting their independence for as long as possible.
Here is an example of a neck mobilisation technique:
Physiotherapy is an evidence-based profession and is heavily regulated from the CSP and HCPC, which ensures that all physiotherapists remain up to date with the latest research and guidance. The human body is extremely complicated with many facets interacting with each other so physiotherapy looks at the ‘whole person’ focussing on health and wellbeing and people’s entire lifestyle. Another key point of Physio is to empower patients in their own care through education while assisting them to participate in their own solutions.
As I mentioned earlier, Physiotherapy helps with more than just sportspeople it also helps with back pain, cumulative or sudden injuries, long-term conditions for everyone in the general public.
There are two routes to becoming a Physiotherapist, you can do an undergraduate degree in Physiotherapy or a post-graduate masters degree in Physiotherapy. Physio is broader than most people realise and has its own specialities. Below are the main areas of Physio:
Cardiovascular (chronic heart disease, cardiac rehabilitation and more)
Respiratory (cystic fibrosis, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and more)
Neurological (stroke, Parkinson’s multiple sclerosis and more)
On my degree, I was trained in all the specialities and I also worked in the hospital setting in all of these areas before specialising into the Neuromuscular area and it will be this area that I shall be comparing against Osteopathy treatment because the other areas are vastly different to it.
So what is Osteopathy?
According to the General Osteopathic Council (GOC), Osteopathy a practice to diagnose and treat a wide range of medical conditions. It focusses on the structure of the body and how it functions. The core value of Osteopathy is that the well-being of a person is dependant on their skeleton, muscles, ligaments and connective tissues functioning well together.
The focus of an Osteopaths work is to restore balance to the body through conservative measures. Osteopathy is very hands-on, they use touch, manipulation, massage and stretching to improve mobility, relieve tension, enhance blood and nerve supply to encourage the body’s natural healing mechanisms.
Although their emphasis is primarily hands-on they do offer advice on posture, diet and exercise too.
Osteopathy is becoming more recognised and they are now starting to work within the NHS. They treat practically the same things as a Physio does such as back, neck and shoulder pain, headaches, spokespeople, arthritis, joint pain and even digestive disorders.
So what is the difference between an Osteopath and a Physiotherapist then?
It would appear that things are very similar and it could be said that there is almost a continuum from Physiotherapy at one end and Chiropractic care at the other end leaving Osteopathy somewhere in the middle and this is in reference to the balance of the different elements. For example, Physiotherapists can and do perform manipulations, mobilisation and massage etc. just like an Osteopath but it seems that they are more focused on the structural and biomechanical aspects of the body and place more weight to manual therapy than Physiotherapy but maybe slightly less emphasis than a Chiropractor.
Here is a prime example of why practitioners can’t purely focus on the physical and structural aspects of pain and injury:
Like Physio, Osteopathy is regulated, which is good and as they are being utilised more the NHS highlights that it must be on some solid ground. Physiotherapy is broader and possibly has a more balanced view of the body and in this would consider advice, exercise and self-management to be the cornerstone of a patients care and the manual techniques are there to assist that process. An Osteopath does recognise these elements too and this is why they do offer self-management, advice and exercise but it is not considered their main focus. Now you must remember that these are sweeping generalisations and all practitioners will differ. There is likely a Physio somewhere right at this moment who is purely focussed on manual therapy and doesn’t give a second thought to self-management, advice and exercise and at the same time there may be an Osteopath who is very much focused on self-management, advice and exercise with very little focus on manual therapy.
Choosing a Physio or an Osteopath is an individual choice and what works for somebody, works for somebody. There is legitimacy in Osteopathy as shown by its growth into the NHS but a person’s previous experience and expectations make a huge difference in treatment outcomes. The main thing to take from this is that the differences are small with Physio being slightly more focussed on self-management and exercise and Osteopaths being slightly more focussed on the hands-on side of the coin but each doing the same as the other fundamentally.
The content in this blog article is provided for general information purposes only and is not meant to replace a physiotherapy or medical consultation.