What’s the Difference Between Osteopaths and Physiotherapists?

14th June 2021

Written by: Carry Triggs-Hodge, Osteopath

Great question! It’ll depend on who you ask, and it can be confusing as there’s lots of potential overlap! Here is one take on the topic…

We (osteos and physios) all help with problems involving the physical structure of the body (the musculoskeletal system).

This includes the spine and other joints, ligaments, muscles and tendons, nerves and the nervous system, and involves problems related to strains and sprains, deconditioning and degeneration (arthritis)… the list goes on. Pain is often the thing that motivates people to seek our help, but it can be due to other things like mobility and movement confidence, sports-related issues, headaches, and rehab or support with recovery from surgery or systemic illness. 

Osteos and physios are trained to diagnose.

If you come to see any of the team at the White Hart Clinic, you’ll get a full examination and assessment to make sure you’re in the right place. We’ll help you understand why you have symptoms and the best ways forward to help you improve and recover focussing on your goals – everyone is different, and your treatment will reflect that. We’ll also consider if additional investigation or imaging to rule out other concerns are necessary.

As a team we have various skill sets and an excellent range of approaches for enabling recovery, whatever your background and needs.

As individual practitioners, how we treat a problem and what approach we take depends on our training and experience - not all osteopaths are alike, the same goes for physios: some of us stick closely to our traditional training and others combine this with additional perspectives and knowledge; we all end up with our own ‘tool kit’, which can be especially useful if your problem hasn’t resolved as expected, or has become long term or recurring and you want to find out if you can get better results with a different approach. 

MYTH: “Osteos work with bones, physios work with muscles”… the osteopath title is a little misleading and in reality there’s a lot of overlap.

Traditionally physios work more with exercise, osteopaths more with hands-on techniques (joint and soft tissue mobilisation or manipulation), additionally, chiropractors are known more for spinal manipulation. But the reality is that many osteos also work with movement/exercise/active methods, and many physios are hands-on with manipulation and soft-tissue work, and post-graduate training can see all three professions learning together. For example, I’m a qualified osteopath but have advanced training in holistic biomechanics (human movement), and the treatment of chronic pain – I work less like a typical osteopath because I have a different ‘tool-kit’ which isn’t limited to ‘osteopathic’ techniques.

Some clinicians become specialists, such as women’s health physios (for pelvic and gynaecological matters), or cranial osteopaths (who use very a very gentle techniques, which can be helpful for babies, stress or support with system concerns).

Things to consider if you’re getting treatment, whether that’s from physio, osteo or chiropractor:

  • Treatment should build your confidence in your body’s resilience and function and help you avoid reliance on treatment in the long term.
  • The things that cause pain and disfunction may or may not show up on scans and x-rays; conversely things that do show up on scans may not be the cause of your pain.  
  • If you have pain, there is a reason for it but sometimes the reason is quite different to what you may have expected.

Above all, make sure you feel comfortable with your practitioner, that you’re happy to ask questions and that the help, treatment or advice you receive is making a difference; great treatment feels like a collaboration, improves your confidence and provides you with an action plan that is specific to you and what you want to achieve.

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