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How does osteopathy differ from physiotherapy?

How does osteopathy differ from physiotherapy?

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between an osteopath and a physiotherapist? You may be suffering with a musculoskeletal problem and don’t know who you should see to manage or alleviate the pain. Perhaps you’ve been told by one person to see a physio, whilst another has said that an osteopath is much better for the type of injury you’ve suffered.

It can get quite confusing!

We are regularly asked by our patients how osteopathy differs from physiotherapy, so let’s look at the two professions and discover the difference once and for all!


Osteopaths and physiotherapists are both regulated health professions. This means that osteopathy and physiotherapy practitioners are required to train to degree level; having qualified, they must then maintain their clinical skills and professional standards in order to keep practicing.

However, although both techniques involve manual therapy, they are based on very different schools of thought and as such, their approach to patients differs massively.


A physiotherapist is focused on helping an individual to restore movement and function after an injury or physical disability. In order to do this, a physiotherapist will assess a range of the body’s systems, including:

  • Musculoskeletal
  • Neurological
  • Cardiovascular
  • Respiratory

Treatments can include massage, stretching, hydrotherapy, ultrasound TENS, braces, splints, crutches, wheelchairs and exercise advice. Certain exercises may be recommended in order to strengthen certain parts of the body, as well as to improve your general health and mobility. Physiotherapists can also provide general advice on good posture, correct lifting and carrying techniques – all of which can improve daily life.

Conditions commonly treated and managed by physiotherapists include:

  • Back pain
  • Sports injuries
  • Whiplash
  • Stroke
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Heart disease
  • Asthma
  • Diabetes
  • Parkinson’s Disease


Osteopathy is based on the principle that the body has the capability to repair itself. In comparison to a physiotherapist, an osteopath tends to use a more hands-on, individual approach in assessing and treating a patient. A full case history will be taken, which seeks to understand not only medical issues, but lifestyle factors that may impact on a person’s health.
An osteopath is trained to diagnose, treat and advise on a wide range of conditions, including:

  • Neck and back pain
  • Heel and foot problems
  • Sciatica
  • Repetitive strain injuries
  • Sports injuries
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Whiplash
  • Shoulder conditions
  • Pelvic and sacro Iliac pain and dysfunction
  • Tendon injuries to the wrist and elbow

Osteopaths believe that optimal health and wellbeing is achieved if the whole body – the muscles, ligaments and connective tissue that surrounds it – are functioning correctly. An osteopath uses techniques such as movement, stretching, manipulation and deep tissue massage to encourage the body to return to optimal health, working with the muscles, joints and structures of the body, including the spine.

What else?

As with most professions, both physios and osteopaths may focus on a particular area of treatment, such as sports injuries or cranial osteopathy.
Therefore, when seeking treatment, it is important that you discuss your symptoms and any concerns you may have with the practitioner. It is important that their skills and treatment style will suit you and your specific needs.


For further information, then please ‘Ask Andy’. There’s really no need to suffer in silence, help is at hand. You can either book an appointment by clicking here or by calling our Billericay Practice on 01277 650010; Pinner Practice on 0208 868 3555 or Parkstone Practice on 01202 734211.

Author Info

Andy Caughey

Andy graduated from the college of osteopaths in 2000. He has a keen interest in sports and is a qualified sports therapist. He is proficient in the use of electrotherapy including ultrasound and interferential and will also include new therapies such as Kinesio taping in his treatments.

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