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  • Writer's pictureUltra Sports

Osteopathy vs Physiotherapy

Updated: Jan 27, 2022

Osteopathy and physiotherapy are often confused with one another. While chiropractors mainly focus on joints, and professionals such as massage therapists concentrate on muscles, physiotherapists and osteopaths tend to find themselves somewhere in the middle. They approach health holistically, taking into account the interrelationship of muscular, nervous, and psychological systems.

Osteopathy and physiotherapy centres both use hands-on treatments to relieve musculoskeletal pain. But which one is best for you? What’s the difference between osteopathy and physiotherapy, and how can they help you get back to enjoying your day-to-day activities without pain?

What is an osteopath?

An osteopath is a qualified and trained medical professional who works with the structure and function of the body. Their core belief is that general good health relies on how smoothly the muscles, bones, ligaments, and connective tissues are working together.

They work across the whole body, stretching and massaging muscles and joints to detect, prevent, and treat health problems by:

  • Relieving tension held in the muscles

  • Reducing pain

  • Increasing blood flow to the tissues

  • Enhance nerve supply

  • Increasing joint mobility

  • Encouraging the body to self-heal

Osteopathy is a complementary form of medical care, founded in 1874 by a physician (Andrew Taylor Still) who discovered he could change people's physiology by using his hands. Today, an osteopath will receive their university degree after four years of concentrated anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, and pathology study. As a part of their training, they will have clinical placements, normally in private practices or clinics, working with patients suffering from musculoskeletal pain.

The fundamental osteopathic philosophy claims that our bodies already have all the tools necessary to naturally self-regulate and heal. Within this reasoning, osteopaths may specialise in particular conditions or use different treatment techniques. Some will focus on visceral based methods, aimed at loosening internal organs from connective tissues. This can increase organ mobility, which is especially important after suffering from trauma or injuries. Other osteopath techniques concentrate on cranial sacral therapy, focused on bones found in the head, spine, and lower back. This specialised therapy relieves the tightness or chronic pain that can be felt when the craniosacral system is unbalanced.

Since not all osteopaths are alike in their specialisms, it’s important for you to discover who will be the most appropriate for your condition and best able to help you.

What do osteopaths do?

An osteopath's key goal is to see that the body functions as a unit. They will examine and treat the joints, muscles, and spine in order to positively affect the body’s nervous, circulatory, and lymphatic systems.

They can provide relief and treatment for a wide range of conditions including:

  • Arthritis

  • Pain in the foot, ankle, hip, and knee

  • Sciatica, back, and neck pain

  • Pain found in the hands, shoulders, and elbows

  • Headaches

  • Tennis and golfer's elbow

  • Postural problems due to pregnancy, sports injury, driving or work strain, or digestive issues

  • Neuralgia

Osteopathy sessions start with an assessment of your symptoms, general health, and any other medical care you may be receiving. An osteopath will also be able to assess you with their hands, looking for any kind of weakness or restriction within your body and along the spine. It may be necessary to remove some clothing to allow for a proper examination.

Osteopaths are trained to identify the problems, if they can treat them, or if they may need to recommend further tests from a GP, such as MRI scans or blood tests.

If osteopathic techniques are required for treatment, an osteopath may use gentle or forceful methods such as:

  • Massage for tightened muscles

  • Stretching

  • Acupuncture

  • Muscle energy techniques

  • Articulation

  • High-velocity thrusts

These methods can boost blood flow, improve movement, and relieve pain. However, you may feel sore or stiff after treatment, especially if the treatment is for an inflamed injury. The osteopath will be able to explain any effects you may be experiencing as well as give advice on self-help and exercise to aid in your recovery

What is a physiotherapist?

Likewise, a physiotherapist is a highly trained expert who uses physical methods to attend to deformity, disease, or injury. A physiotherapy centre will aim to restore movement and functional ability by using massage, heat treatment, and exercises.

While either physio or osteopath treatments take holistic approaches to health, physiotherapists see that their patients fully involve themselves with their own recovery. A physio clinic will take three main approaches towards pain relief and recuperation: education and advice, movement and exercise, and manual therapy.

While either physio or osteopath treatments take holistic approaches to health, physiotherapists see that their patients fully involve themselves with their own recovery. A physio clinic will take three main approaches towards pain relief and recuperation: education and advice, movement and exercise, and manual therapy.

Physiotherapists are also well-known for the tailored movements and exercises proposed to improve strength, health, and mobility.

Some physical treatments to expect from physiotherapy can include:

  • Targeted exercises intent on improving movement and strength

  • Whole body movements, such as swimming or walking, that can promote recovery after an operation or injury that affects mobility

  • Hydrotherapy exercises done in warm, shallow water to relax, support, and strengthen your muscles and joints

A physiotherapist can also share exercises to practice at home or provide mobility aids, such as crutches, in order to allow for physical activity or manage pain.

The last approach, manual therapy, involves the use of hands to massage, manipulate, and mobilise body tissues. These techniques can improve the quality of life for those suffering from serious or chronic conditions by reducing anxiety and improving sleep quality.

Physiotherapy techniques can also be used to:

  • Improve blood circulation

  • Reduce pain and stiffness

  • Drain fluid efficiently

  • Promote relaxation

  • Increasing mobility and movement

Physiotherapy may also include techniques such as electro-modalities like ultrasound or TENs machines.

What is a physiotherapist good for?

Musculoskeletal physiotherapists treat problems associated with muscles, bones, nerves, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, and joints. Specifically, they can help with:

  • Spinal problems

  • Soft tissue injuries

  • Rheumatological problems

  • Rehabilitation

  • Pregnancy

People of all ages can benefit from physiotherapy as it takes a drug-free approach, avoiding invasive procedures or surgery. It can be helpful to patients suffering from a wide range of conditions such as:

  • Strokes, multiple sclerosis, or Parkinson's disease as they affect movement, the brain, or nervous systems

  • Back, neck, and shoulder pain, as well as sports injuries found within the joints, bones, and soft tissues

  • Heart and circulation issues

  • Cystic fibrosis or other conditions affecting the lungs and breathing

Is osteopathy the same as physiotherapy?

There are many similarities between physiotherapy and osteopathy. They both look to the whole body to examine, diagnose, and treat problems. Either osteopath or physio treatment will aim to relieve pain through the soft tissues, joints, bones, nerves, and muscles. Nevertheless, they are not the same, especially when it comes to philosophy, approach, and training

While osteopathy is considered a “hands-on” complementary medicine, physiotherapy is a science-based practice that follows exercise-based treatment. Physiotherapists train with the NHS for three years, in hospitals, GP surgeries, or community clinics. They study extensively musculoskeletal, neurological, and respiratory health, as well as train on the use of modalities such as electrotherapy. Osteopaths prefer to use their hands and focus on spinal and joint manipulation.

Physiotherapists also tend to treat an extensive range of physical problems. This means they can tend to many different health conditions and provide specialised care, such as physiotherapy for sports injuries or rehabilitation to the legs and learning to walk again.

Both physiotherapists and osteopaths look to your joints, muscles, bones, and nerves to relieve pain and help your body function. But it’s important to see a practitioner who has plenty of experience with your particular condition.

Should I choose an osteopath or a physiotherapist?

It’s best to research and try different forms of therapy before deciding which one best suits your needs. The road to recovery can be long and demanding. If you suffer from injury or chronic pain, it may be necessary to see both therapists in order to get back to a pain-free life.

Call and talk to a professional to know for sure what’s right for you. At Ultra Sports Clinic, we offer patients a multi-disciplined approach to their treatment plan. We have a highly skilled team of both osteopaths and physiotherapists ready to get your body working towards its full potential.

Call us on 0203 893 5100. We are happy to help and answer any questions. Book an appointment online so that one of our expert practitioners can find a personalised treatment plan to suit your specific needs today.



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