Top 5 Differences between an Osteopath and Physiotherapist

Osteopaths in the UK are trained to diagnose, treat, manage, and prevent a variety of medical conditions, especially those affecting the musculoskeletal system. They are governed by the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC) and must complete a four- to five-year degree programme with extensive clinical experience. In my day, we had to do 1500 hours of clinical experience although I understand this now may be 1000 hours. Osteopaths use a holistic approach, taking into account the patient's entire body and lifestyle, and employ a variety of manual techniques including manipulation, stretching, and massage. They frequently work in private practice, and patients can refer themselves for care. In addition to focusing on preventative care, they treat a variety of conditions, from back pain to headaches, in an effort to improve their patients' overall health and well-being.

A physiotherapist is a healthcare professional who specialises in the treatment and management of a wide variety of conditions affecting the physical function of the body. They are governed by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and typically earn a three-year bachelor's degree, or a two-year master's degree. Physiotherapists use manual therapy, exercises, and sometimes equipment such as ultrasound or shockwave to assist patients in recovering from injury, surgery, or managing chronic conditions. They frequently work for the National Health Service (NHS) and receive referrals from GPs and consultants, but they can also work in private practice. Their focus is on rehabilitation and improving a patient's ability to perform tasks at home and at work, and they frequently teach patients home exercises to manage their condition.

Let’s look at five key differences:

  1. Education and Training: In the UK, osteopaths are trained in a four or five-year degree program, which includes a lot of hands-on clinical experience. These days most osteopaths qualify with a Masters. Physiotherapists, on the other hand, typically complete a three-year undergraduate Batchelors degree. In some cases, physiotherapists can also become qualified by completing a two-year master's degree. However, they would first have needed to have an undergraduate degree in a related science or sports rehabilitation.

  2. Treatment Approach: Osteopaths often use a hands-on treatment approach, considering the whole body and lifestyle of the patient. Physiotherapists tend to focus more on the specific area of injury or dysfunction and often use exercise-based rehabilitation as a primary treatment method. Both physios and osteos tend to use a holistic approach to care. However, what do we mean by holistic? It means we will look at other contributing factors like your work, your health, your weight, your fitness levels, your diet, and your sports or hobbies.

  3. Techniques: Osteopaths use a wider range of manual techniques, including manipulation (sometimes called high-velocity thrusts, although our osteopaths at Surrey Physio are much gentler and rarely use these techniques), stretching, and massage. Physiotherapists often use a combination of rehabilitation, manual therapy, exercises, and equipment such as ultrasound, LASER and shockwave.

  4. Patient Education: While both professions involve educating patients about their conditions and how to manage them, physiotherapists often place a greater emphasis on teaching patients exercises they can do at home to improve their condition. Physiotherapists, especially in the NHS where the need for appointments is very high, will often rely on education and encouraging patients to self-manage their condition. Osteopaths typically prefer to work with people more closely, often seeing them more regularly (although not indefinitely), and providing more manual therapy to help them.

    We use for a lot of our patient education.

  5. Research Base: Physiotherapy has a larger body of research supporting its practices, due in part to its longer history and wider scope. Osteopathy, while evidence-based, has a smaller body of research. This is likely to be highly representative of the size of the professions. In the UK, there are almost 70,000 physiotherapists compared to just 5000 osteopaths.

The reader should be aware that there is a lot of overlap between the two professions, and the specifics can vary depending on the individual practitioner and their approach to treatment. Both osteopaths and physiotherapists are healthcare professionals who can help with a range of musculoskeletal issues. They are both experts, both safe professions, and both holistic, and natural. They are both incredible professions that help millions of people every year. They are both truly remarkable.

If you are a patient, in pain suffering with acute or chronic pain, please call us to discuss your case further. Surrey Physio have an amazing team of therapists to help you recover from pain, but also to achieve top performance. Call us on 0208 685 6930 or click the link at the top to book online.)