Difference between Osteopathy & Physiotherapy


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Osteopathy and physical therapy are actually two vastly different fields that vary not only in their approach, but in the way they treat patients.

Differences between osteopathy and physiotherapy

Physical therapy is part of a treatment programme implemented to rehabilitate a patient who has suffered a loss of function and/or mobility. A physio’s treatment may be quite specific, depending on the nature of the injury, and while they carry out their own full assessment of the injury, they have no role diagnosing the underlying causes (neurological disorders for example) and in prescribing the early stages of medical or surgical intervention.

In contrast osteopaths have a diagnostic role and approach the body as a whole in terms of treatment. An osteopath can diagnose a number of disorders, and their work is focussed on the nervous, muscular, and skeletal systems. Osteopathy is its own system that aims to maintain the body as a whole, and this is based on a belief that bodily systems tend to auto regulate, and that in the event of a trauma or illness that disrupts this auto-regulation, osteopaths should come in and work on the body as a whole to restore it to a state in which it can effectively maintain itself.

Physiotherapists will also tend to be more specialised. Working in a hospital setting and often within specific departments they will tend to deal with symptoms presenting from specific problems, and aid in rehabilitation based on the condition presented. For example a physio will treat patients presenting with difficulties in mobility after a stroke. Physios will be involved in neurological and pulmonary treatments, whereas osteopaths will not.

The key difference is in approach, an osteopath’s practice is holistic and based on rejuvenating the whole body, whereas a physiotherapist is focussed on functional recovery and symptom management.

Physiotherapists have a community role in promoting general health and fitness. They also have access to a number of other tools which an osteopath will not use, these include exercise, electrotherapy, education, and counselling.

Similarities between osteopathy and physiotherapy

Despite the fundamental differences in the two fields, there are some similarities between them in terms of what they can achieve. Both are known to be effective methods of treating musculoskeletal problems, as well as a host of other physical symptoms in any age group. Both disciplines make use of modern diagnostics and begin treatment with a comprehensive patient history and physical exam to ascertain your suitability for that mode of therapy. Both fields share some techniques such as manipulation and massage, although often to different ends.


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