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Osteopathy or Physiotherapy?


Many patients have to deal with this question and don’t really know the differences between an osteopath and a physiotherapist. When facing the pain, choosing the right door isn’t always easy – we rather choose the closest one !

Here is a little summary to help you understand which therapy might be the most appropriate for your situation. Although these two professions seem very similar, it is essential to understand the differences between osteopathy and physiotherapy as they diverge regarding training, therapeutic principles and treatment.


            Osteopaths are required to study for 4 to 5 years. Their studies lead to a bachelor’s degree in osteopathy (BSc Hons, BOst or BOstMed) or a masters degree (MOst). All the osteopaths must be registered with the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC) to practice in the UK.


On the other hand, physiotherapists are required to study for 3 to 4 years. Their studies led to a bachelor’s degree in physiotherapy (BSc Physiotherapy). They have to be registered by the Health Professions Council and their professionnal organisation is the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy.

Although osteopathy and physiotherapy both share their curative purpose, they do not have the same approach or philosophy.


Osteopathy considers the body as a whole when seeking the origin of a pathology; Wellbeing depends on the balance of several systems (musculoskeletal, visceral, ...) interacting and influencing each other.

The osteopath is often consulted first ; as he is trained to diagnose whether the patient can be helped with this approach or reoriented. A consultation with an osteopath can therefore be both curative or preventive.


According to the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists « Physiotherapy helps restore movement and function to as near normal as possible when someone is affected by injury, illness or by developmental or other disability ». This means that physiotherapists are trained to evaluate specific problems. It is for instance very common for them to treat referred patients for muscular rehabilitation. Their action will be more local.


            Depending on the patient and his pain, osteopaths and physiotherapists might use the same techniques for treatment : soft tissue techniques, muscle energetic techniques, stretching, passive joint mobilisation, specific movements. They can also both provide advice to prevent recurring symptoms and exercices for body recovering.

The osteopath specificities are linked to the manipulation of the spine and joints (known by the « cracking » sound) along with visceral and cranial techniques.


The physiotherapist will focus on rehabilitation exercise programs to strengthen the muscles, work on body endurance. He might use ultrasounds, cryotherapy, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulator machine to treat an issue.


What you should remember is that one does not replace the other.


An osteopath can not replace a physiotherapist when rehabilitation work is necessary and the opposite is true: a physiotherapist can not practice osteopathy without proper training. They are absolutely different – although very complimentary.


Formal studies on back pain support have actually shown the effectiveness of using both osteopathy and physiotherapy as complementary treatments. The advantage of having these two professions in the same clinic is that your practitionner will refer you to another treatment if he thinks it is more suitable for you.


In the end the most important is really to act on your pain and do something - as the more you allow the pain to settle,  the harder it will be to get rid of it.

The final choice depends on your personal preferences, as every practitioner will adapt his treatment to you.


So take a good resolution and don’t let the pain win !


Charlotte Mernier,

French Osteopath London



References:

Chartered Society of Physiotherapists (CSP). Chartered Society of Physiotherapists, http://www.csp.org.uk/. , (consulted the 13/01/2016).

General Osteopathic Council (GOsC). General Osteopathic Council, http://www.osteopathy.org.uk/visiting-an-osteopath/about-osteopathy/. , (consulted the 13/01/2016).

Kizhakkeveettil, A., Rose, K., Kadar, G.E. (2014) Integrative therapies for low back pain that include complementary and alternative medecine care: a systematic review. Glob Adv Health Med. , 3(5), 49-64.

National Council for Osteopathic Research. What is the difference between  osteopaths, chiropractors, and physiotherapists?,  [Online] http://www.ncor.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Differences-between-osteopathy-chiropractic-and-physiotherapy.pdf  (consulted the 13/01/2016).

National Health Service. NHS, http://www.nhs.uk/. , (consulted the 13/01/2016).

UK Health Centre. UK Health Centre, http://www.healthcentre.org.uk/. (consulted the 13/01/2016).

UK BEAM Trial Team (2004) United Kingdom back pain exercise and manipulations (UK BEAM) randomised trial: effectiveness of physical treatments for back pain in primary care. British Medical Journal, 329(7479), 1377.

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