Osteopathy vs Physiotherapy - Flawless
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Osteopathy vs Physiotherapy

What are the differences between an Osteopath and a Physiotherapist?

There is often a lot of confusion about what Physiotherapy and Osteopathy have to offer. In this article, we aim to explain the main differences between two professions that may look similar but in truth are fairly different.

Origins of the professions

Osteopathy was born in America in the late 1800s. A medical doctor of the time, Dr. Andrew Taylor Still, founded this alternative way of healing people as a result of the many unsuccessful treatment options available at the time. The foundation of Osteopathy is that the body has the ability to heal on its own by finding an equilibrium, which osteopathic treatment helps achieve. Nowadays, Osteopathy is chosen by many patients worldwide for the treatment of a wide variety of musculoskeletal issues.

Physiotherapy was first documented in the early 1800 by Per Henrik Ling, also known as the “Father of Swedish Gymnastics”.  The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, the organisation that regulates the profession within the UK, was initially born in 1894 as an organisation of specialised Massage Therapists, who utilised massage and gymnastics to cure people. As a renowned Physiotherapist and researcher suggested, “Physiotherapy is about the return of thoughtless and fearless movement” (Louis Gifford, 2005)

Picture of Physiotherapy

Osteopathy vs Physiotherapy: Definitions 

Physiotherapy, according to the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, “helps people affected by injury, illness or disability through movement and exercise, manual therapy, education, and advice. They maintain health for people of all ages, helping patients to manage pain and prevent disease”.

Osteopathy, according to the General Osteopathic Council, “works with the structure and function of the body. It is based on the principle that the well-being of an individual depends on the skeleton, muscles, ligaments, and connective tissues functioning smoothly together. Osteopaths use physical manipulation, stretching, and massage to increase joint mobility, relieve muscle tension, enhance the blood and nerve supply, and to help your body’s own healing mechanisms”

Based on the two definitions, it may appear that the two professions aren’t that different from one another. In fact, it could be argued that both professions use the biopsychosocial model of health. Hence, during assessment and treatment, they consider the uniqueness of the person rather than the disease on its own. They take into account elements of the psychosocial sphere, such as stress, anxiety, and depression, as possible drivers of your pain. Nonetheless, a Physiotherapist will prioritise an exercise-based intervention for achieving complete resolution of your symptoms, whilst utilising manual therapy and manipulation as an additional part of treatment.

Conversely, an Osteopath will normally prioritise a manual intervention, by means of massage, stretching, and manipulations, to achieve resolution of symptoms and to help the body reach a condition of well-being. Hence, a Physiotherapist should be considered as a healthcare professional specialising in delivering Exercise Therapy as a major treatment modality, whereas an Osteopath will be better equipped for standalone manual intervention. It must be noted that is a general classification and all individual therapists differ in the preferential forms of treatment. 

The above considerations should also be seen in light of the poor long-term benefits of manual therapy and the proven major long-term effects of exercise on tissue health. In other words, having a manipulation may help in the short term to decrease your pain and get you to walk better. However, if you are a runner suffering from Achilles tendon pain, an exercise regimen should be paramount for achieving long-term benefits of function and performance.


What conditions should you see an Osteopath or Physio for?

Osteopaths predominantly treat patients affected by spinal disorders, although there are claims that Osteopathy may also be effective in the management of more systemic health problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome, reflux, or insomnia.

On the other hand, Physiotherapists see a wide range of pathologies affecting spinal and peripheral joints likewise, such as foot and ankle, knee or shoulder issues. In addition, post-operative rehabilitation is uniquely followed by specialised physiotherapists, who generally assist you during the whole recovery process and keep in touch with your surgeon to achieve the best possible outcomes that are important to you.

If you have any doubt about your condition, give us a call and we will be happy to help with the majority of problems.

Physiotherapy at Flawless Physio

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