Difference between an Osteopath and a Physiotherapist


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Physiotherapy is another treatment method that uses soft tissue massage to alleviate symptoms and students have to carry out an accredited 3 or 4 year university course (graduating with a BSc Physiotherapy) before they can become registered as a practising physiotherapist. Whilst this appears to be very similar to osteopathy, there are a number of subtle differences between osteopathy and physiotherapy that may make one treatment method more suitable for you than the other. Physiotherapy is very popular within the NHS and is therefore a common form of treatment that is referred to by GPs and hospital doctors and surgeons.

Diagnosis and Referral to a Physiotherapist or Osteopath

Unlike osteopaths, physiotherapists do not often diagnose specific ailments or illnesses (this is often because their patients have been referred to them by a GP who has pre-diagnosed the problem). It is common for patients to be referred to a physiotherapist for a specific problem. For example, if you break your leg badly, you will often be referred to a physiotherapist who will treat you and give you exercises to carry out at home in order to strengthen your muscles back up during your recovery. So, whilst osteopaths treat your body as a whole (in a holistic manner), physiotherapists will often concentrate on the problem stated by the referee (or the patient) so that the treatment is more specified for the ailment.

Treatment by an Osteopath Compared to Treatment by a Physiotherapist

Physiotherapy treatment would be more area specific than osteopathic treatment. For example if you were having physiotherapy treatment on your knee, they would mostly work in the area around the knee joint as well as giving you some knee exercises to carry out at home. However an osteopath would treat your body as a whole and would want to include treatments that would improve your posture as a whole (so they might want to massage around your knee, hip and back and give you advice on how to improve your posture to reduce the strain on your knee).

In addition to touch, massage and movement, a physiotherapist might use ultrasound or a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulator (TENS) machine to treat your problem area. Ultrasound work in a similar way to deep massage by generating movement and heat in the soft tissues targeted by the machine which releases tension in the area. TENS machines are thought to reduce the pain felt in an area by releasing tiny waves of electrical pulses that stimulates the nerves. However this method does not work for everybody.


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