What Is the Difference Between An Osteopath And A Physiotherapist

What Is the Difference Between An Osteopath And A Physiotherapist

You might be wondering what the difference between an Osteopath and a Physiotherapist is. An Osteopath and a Physiotherapist may seem similar, but they have different origins and philosophies. They both work on the human body and improve its capability with movement and exercises, but the form this type of therapy takes is different for both fields.

Not only do they have different treatments differentiating them, but they also have different degree and education requirements.

Here we will look at their different origins and philosophies, the different training and education required for their degrees, what ailments they can be used on, and their benefits. Let’s get started!

Origins and Philosophy


A great place to start is by looking at the differences between the origins and philosophies of these two professions. 


Physiotherapy is defined as a field of medicine that deals with helping people who are affected by injuries, disability, or illness, through exercises, and movement of body parts. They give therapy on affected body parts, educate the people about their ailments, and give advice.

A physiotherapist ensures that a patient’s health is maintained long-term, by advising them on managing pain and preventing diseases. 

Physiotherapy was documented as early as 1813 by Per Henrik Ling, who was called the “father of Swedish Gymnastics”. It deals with managing pain and movement, using a science-based method. At its core, it deals with what is referred to as ‘musculoskeletal’ health, which deals with bones, tendons, ligaments, fascia, and muscles.


Osteopathy is a field of study that at its core deals with the spinal cord and its related body parts. It deals with the entire body, its structure, and function, to maintain the well-being of an individual. It does so by focusing on the connective tissues of the body, muscles, ligaments, and skeleton, making sure they function smoothly.

This is done by stretching, manipulating, and massaging different body parts to relieve tension in muscles, enhance blood and nerve supply, increase the mobility of joints, reduce pain, and increase the body’s internal healing mechanism.

Osteopathy first originated in 1874 and is based on the work of Dr. Andrew Still. Dr. Andrew noticed that he could change the physiology of people by physically manipulating the body and its parts. The philosophy behind osteopathy firmly believes that all body parts are related to each other, and the overall health of the body depends on the individual and collective health of the body parts. 

Training and Education

Osteopathy and physiotherapy both require a bachelor’s (BSc Hons) undergraduate degree. Osteopathy is a three-year degree while physiotherapy is a four-year degree. Both degrees cover some of the same subjects, such as biomechanics, pathology, physiology, and anatomy.

They also go through clinical training, where they are given experience in dealing with different patients and ailments as a part of their training course, under the supervision of clinicians. Clinical training is where the difference between a physiotherapist and an osteopath arises.

A physiotherapist deals with and comes in contact with a broader and wider range of medical conditions and issues during their clinical training, especially with affiliated hospitals, as compared to an osteopath.

Physiotherapists are taught to deal with the physical problems of different systems of the human body. They learn to deal with neurological, respiratory, and musculoskeletal conditions, giving them a solid foundation to harness their skills. 

Osteopaths on the other hand are taught clinical studies at a private practice teaching clinic. They also learn how to manage pain and injuries, but most of these will be due to neck and back pain, any other musculoskeletal pain, or sports injuries. Because of this, an osteopath deals with a limited number of ailments and issues as compared to a physiotherapist during their education and training. 

Physiotherapist Specialization

A physiotherapist can develop further experience and specialize in the following fields:

  • Post-operation rehabilitation
  • Pre/Post-natal condition treatment
  • Pain management
  • Shockwave therapy
  • Certification in diagnostic ultrasound

Osteopath Specialization

An osteopath can specialize in any of the following:

  • Pediatrics
  • Internal organs (Visceral)
  • Women’s health
  • Cranial-sacral therapy

Why Would Someone Need an Osteopath?

Why Would Someone Need an Osteopath

While an osteopath would also take an assessment of your history, the specification of your pain, and the general working of the body part, they differ in how they clinically assess your condition. Osteopaths will take a holistic approach to pain management. If you have pain in your neck, they would also assess your lower limbs and pelvic to figure out if they are causing an impact on the neck pain.

They deal with the body and the nervous system as a whole and even analyze your internal organs to see if they are affected by the pain, or contributing to it. This is not something a physiotherapist would look at or analyze. On the other hand, an osteopath does not have any training in diagnostic ultrasound.

People would need an osteopath if they have pain without any incurring injury. It could be any condition such as lower back pain, neck pain, elbow pain, shoulder pain, posture problems caused by work or driving, arthritis, or minor injuries caused by sport.

It is especially effective for pregnant women in dealing with post and pre-natal care and back pain. It does not use any drugs and looks at the overall health and well-being of an individual. 

Why Would Someone Need A Physiotherapist?

Why Would Someone Need A Physiotherapist

When you go to a physiotherapist, they would first take a detailed history and check your present condition. This assessment involves asking queries about:

  • How did your symptoms start?
  • How painful it is on a scale?
  • What makes the pain better or worse?
  • How is your general health?

After this, you will be given a physical assessment of your condition. A physiotherapist will assess the locality of the pain but will look at it as part of the overall function of the body part. If you have pain in your knee, they will assess your knee, but also assess your ligaments and ask you to squat to assess the mobility of the knee. They would also use diagnostic ultrasound to assess the condition of your bones, muscles, and ligaments, of the affected area to confirm a diagnosis.

A person would need a therapist if they face the following issues. 

  • Sports injuries
  • Back and knee pain
  • Arthritis
  • Incontinence
  • Recovery from broken bones. 
  • Surgery rehabilitation
  • Management after stroke

What Conditions Does An Osteopath Treat?

An osteopath treats the following conditions:

  • Headaches and migraines
  • Chronic neck, back, or shoulder pain
  • Work injuries
  • Sporting injuries
  • Pain during or related to pregnancy
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Neurological pain
  • Scoliosis of the spine
  • Rib pain that causes pain with breathing

What Conditions Does A Physiotherapist Treat?

There are a lot of injuries and conditions that require special attention and treatment from a physiotherapist, which include:

  • Neurological conditions; Parkinson’s disease, nerve damage, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, vertigo, concussion, stroke, cerebral palsy, etc. 
  • Orthopedic conditions; Carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis, foot conditions, sciatica, joint problems, knee conditions, lower back pain, etc. 
  • Autoimmune conditions; Raynaud’s syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid arthritis, etc. 
  • Conditions that are chronic like asthma, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, obesity, high blood pressure, obesity, etc. 
  • Guillain- Barre syndrome
  • Development delays in children


Osteopathy and Physiotherapy are used to assess and maintain the physical well-being of patients mostly dealing with pain and the microvascular system. Osteopathy has a limited scope as compared to physiotherapy, but while physiotherapy works on connected issues and systematically deals with the problems, and focuses on rehabilitation, osteopathy takes a holistic view of issues and recovery. 

Osteopathy involves dealing with all interrelated body parts and even internal organs to increase the overall health and well-being of the patient for the best results. Both are useful methods and have their own place in recovery, and your choice can depend on personal opinion. 


Do osteopaths crack bones?

In simple terms, osteopaths do crack bones, which in medical terms is a technique to manage pain. It involves spinal manipulation where a quick pressure is applied over a joint with a short amplitude, called HVT, high-velocity thrust, to adjust the structure of the spines. This manipulation causes a ‘crack’ sound to be heard.  This spinal manipulation can help to:

  • Decrease muscle tension
  • Help reduce back pain
  • Decrease swelling in joints
  • Helps release endorphin, which can assist in pain management
  • Can help increase the range of movement

What does an osteopath do for back pain?

Osteopathy has proven to be very effective for back pain. It is a drug-free, non-invasive treatment and studies show it to be more effective than a placebo and especially for pregnant women. It involves manipulating the joints and bones, massaging the muscles, traction, spinal manipulation, muscle energy technique, counterstain technique, etc. to help manage pain caused by:

  • A muscle spasm or strain
  • A sprain to the lower back joints also called facet joint sprain
  • Injuries to disc; strains, prolapses, slipped disc, bulges


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