Osteopathy works with the structure and function of the body. It is based on the principle that the well-being of an individual depends on the skeleton, muscles, ligaments and connective tissues functioning smoothly together. Osteopaths use physical manipulation, stretching and massage to:
- increase joint mobility,
- relieve muscle tension,
- enhance the blood and nerve supply,
- and to help your body’s own healing mechanisms
(General Osteopathic Council).
Osteopathy or Physiotherapy?
- low back pain,
- neck pain,
- joint and muscle pain,
The difference is that, as professionals, we might take and slightly different approach to achieve this aim and the philosophy underpinning our approaches is slightly different.
Physiotherapy is a science-based, dynamic profession that relyes on the best available evidence for treating and managing pain and movement.
Assessment Process in osteopathy and physiotherapy
During your first session, both a physiotherapist and osteopath will take a detailed clinical history and carry out a comprehensive assessment of your presenting condition. The overall assessment process is likely to appear quite similar. Still, there may be some differences depending on your individual therapist’s training and experience.
The assessment will involve the clinician asking you several questions and finding out about when and how your symptoms started and how the symptoms behave, i.e. what makes your pain better or worse. You will also be asked questions about your general health. The clinician will then go on and carry out a physical assessment of the affected area.
Generally, osteopaths probably assess a condition from a more holistic point of view, i.e. if you have a neck problem, they may assess your pelvis and lower limbs to see if these are contributing to your pain. They may even “assess” your internal organs. Conversely, physiotherapists assess more locally to the painful or affected area but will also consider it as part of the overall functional unit. For example, if you have knee pain, a physiotherapist will assess the knee but will also evaluate your gait , your ankle and hip movements and the knee as part of a functional movement, e.g. a squat.
Treatment: osteopathy or physiotherapy?
Obviously, the type of treatment you receive will depend very much on the individual therapist’s experience and training. Most physiotherapists will use a combination of ‘hands on’ treatment and exercise-based treatment (rehabilitation).
‘Hands on’ or manual therapy may involve techniques applied to your muscles and joints to improve their mobility and your overall range of motion.
It is very uncommon that you will see a physiotherapist that does not give you a home exercise-based programme. These exercises are aimed at reinforcing the benefits you have received in your treatment session and are an essential part of most treatment plans.
Osteopaths also use ‘hands on’ treatments but may not compliment this with exercises for you to carry out between your treatment sessions. This does vary from one clinician to another; however, most physiotherapists will use exercises as an essential part of their treatment regime more often than osteopaths.
A significant body of research has now been established to show exercise therapy is a very important part of a treatment program for any back condition.
Another difference is the type of ‘hands on’ treatment you may receive. Spinal manipulation (high-velocity thrust techniques) is when a therapist’ cracks’ your spine or joint. The noise is actually gas bubbles being released from the joint. Both physiotherapist and osteopaths use spinal manipulation techniques, these can be very useful for treating acute low back pain and neck pain.
The origins of spinal manipulation are osteopathic, so you are more likely to receive this specific treatment if you see an osteopath. Spinal manipulation formed a significant part of my under-graduate osteopathic training and can be a useful technique for acute neck pain and stiffness, e.g. a wry neck.
Some physiotherapists will learn spinal manipulation as part of their postgraduate study. The key factor is that whoever you see for spinal manipulation, they must have extensive experience, and it is important you carry out some research beforehand.
Physiotherapists also have extensive training and are exposed to the management and treatment of patients after operations such as ligament reconstructions, arthroscopies and back surgery. Osteopathic training does not expose you to this.
At Swissphysio, osteopaths and physiotherapists treat patients holistically. We may treat one part of the body to reduce pain in another. For example, we may treat your right knee pain by manipulating your left pelvis. Additionally, we may treat your internal organs, these are called visceral techniques.
For example, if you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and lower back pain combined, our physiotherapist and osteopath may treat your bowel specifically with ‘hands on’ techniques.
Our physiotherapists have worked closely with orthopaedic surgeons for many years. They have managed clients from day 1 post-operation, ensuring they are pain-free when returning back to full function. Whether that be walking, playing football or their chosen sport…
Both osteopaths and physiotherapists will specialise in certain areas as they develop their experience and progress their interests and career. Due to the variety of specialisms within the professions, I would advise that you enquire about the skills and experience of the individual clinician you plan to see.
For example, at Swissphysio we have physiotherapists that specialise in:
- Computerised Back Scan for low back pain and neck pain
- Rehabilitation post-operation
- Treatment of pre and post-natal conditions
- Running injuries and video analysis
Many osteopaths also specialise in certain conditions or treatment techniques:
- Visceral (internal organs)
- Cranial-sacral, women’s health
The reality is there are probably more similarities than differences!
It is not often related to whether your clinician is a physiotherapist or osteopath, but more their individual experience and training. I would always advise you to research your therapist before you see them or call their clinic to find out more information.
Here at SWISSPHYSIO you will find a joined 50 years of experience in both professions where the physiotherapist uses a holistic approach and the osteopath treats also other joints than the spine. As professionals, we might take and slightly different approach to the same aim:
Improve the well-being and health of our clients.
Still in doubt about who to see? Simply call us on 0191 296 0567 or send us an email at email@example.com and we will be happy to advise you.
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