Matt Blackburn

Physio or Osteo, what’s the difference?

If you’ve ever had a problem such as a sore back, headache, sciatica or a painful knee it’s likely that you have looked for some kind of professional to help.  Physiotherapists and osteopaths are both allied health professionals whose aims are to relieve pain and help your body work better however the differences between them can be confusing.  

This article takes a closer look at each profession to find out what they do and how they are different. It may help your guide your choice in choosing someone.

These days there is some blending between different professions including use of similar techniques and the treating of similar issues. A lot depends on the individual practitioner their approach, and their areas of speciality. Most allied health practitioners do extensive post graduate training creating areas of expertise and particular strengths and skills.

Physio’s and Osteo’s probably have more in common than you think, however there are some differences in philosophy, aims, methods of treating and training.

Aims and philosophy:

The aim of physiotherapy is to improve function through rehabilitation i.e.to improve a person’s ability to move and function.  Physios are experts in rehabilitation of injuries and exercise-based management of conditions. They use their in-depth knowledge of anatomy and physiology to assess and treat people with a range of health conditions from sporting injuries, neck and back pain, to people recovering from stroke, brain or spinal cord injury, and conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, osteoporosis and cystic fibrosis.

Osteopaths believe that there is a strong relationship between the body’s structure (mechanics) and its function (physiology). They are experts at manual therapy and their treatments are almost exclusively hands on.  Their aim is to improve the body’s structure and hence function by working physically using the hands. They have a holistic approach and follow the principals that “the body is a whole’, that “all the body’s systems are interconnected” and that “the body has self-healing mechanisms”. For example, if you see an osteopath for neck pain, they may also take a look at your upper back, ribs and pelvis. They will ask you about your medical history, and may ask you about other factors that don’t appear to be directly related to your current injury.

In contrast Physiotherapy treatment may focus more on mobilising the site of injury rather than the ‘whole body’ approach.

Training and education:

Physios are trained in a wide range of areas and have a much broader scope of practice than Osteos. They work in all sectors of healthcare, including public hospitals, private practice, rehabilitation centres, sporting clubs and community health centres. In Australia, all physiotherapists must complete at the very minimum a bachelor degree (usually four years) in physiotherapy, however many practicing physios have a masters or professional doctorate.

All physiotherapists must be registered with the Australian Health Practitioner Registration Agency. (AHPRA)

Osteopathic training is almost exclusively in the workings of the human body involving medical science and practical skills and technique. It involves developing advanced palpatory and diagnostic skills.  Osteopaths almost exclusively work in private practice.

In Australia Osteopaths undergo a five-year University training with an undergraduate applied science degree and a Master’s degree.

All Osteopaths must be registered with the Australian Health Practitioner Registration Agency. (AHPRA)