What is the Difference Between an Osteopath and a Physiotherapist?

As a fitness professional and naturopath, I am constantly asked the difference between an osteopath and a physiotherapist. Although both professions have extensive training in anatomy, physiology, pathology and hands on techniques, there are distinct differences with the two and they originate from quite different roots. 

Osteopathy was brought to the world by Andrew Taylor Still on June 22, 1874 in Kirksville Missouri. Osteopaths view the body as a unique, interconnected, self-healing system. The philosophy is based on the premise of treating the body as a whole since all parts are interrelated. The goal of the osteopath is to discover the blockages, or lesions, unblock, and the body will do the rest. Each body is viewed as being unique, which means that treatment is tailored to the individual, not the symptoms. Osteopathic treatment is 90 % hands on and varies from gentle touch and pressure to thrust techniques.

The earliest documented origins of actual physiotherapy as a professional group date back to Per Henrik Ling “Father of Swedish Gymnastics” who founded the Royal Central Institute of Gymnastics (RCIG) in 1813 for massage, manipulation and exercise. 

Physiotherapy is a healthcare profession concerned with human function, movement and physical well-being to maximize potential. It uses physical approaches to promote. maintain, and restore physical and social well-being. To the physiotherapist "movement “is the core expertise of physiotherapy. 

Physiotherapy diagnosis and treatment is less hands on than an osteopath as more focus is given to observing movement and correcting technique. Along with manual pressure for healing, a physio may use ultrasound for strains, tears, or frozen shoulders. Electrical muscle stimulation machines are used very often to help rebuild tone and strength in muscles that may have atrophied or injured in an accident. 

In conclusion, if you are looking for a more holistic approach to treating malaise in your body, perhaps an osteopath would be a better choice as he or she would look for the underlying cause of pain and work on returning the body back to its normal state so that it can heal on its own. However, it is important to note that not all osteopaths are versed in exercise like physiotherapists.

In the US, osteopaths are fully licensed physicians, able to practice the entire scope of medicine, where in Canada and many other countries, it is strictly a manual therapy practice requiring training and licensing. It is important to note that an osteopath is able to treat anything from vertigo, pain with pregnancy, to digestive issues. 

There are a lot of options to help with pain or injuries that may develop. Never ignore a problem as these practitioners are here to help with our health and safety. 

The opinions shared in this article are those of the contributor and not Total Gym Direct.

Frances Michaelson

A pioneer in the fitness industry, Frances opened the first personal training center in the West Island of Montreal in 2001. In 2008 , Frances had the “gut feeling“ that there was more to learn about health and how our bodies function, which led to further her education in the field of Naturopathy and holistic nutrition. She has since authored two books. Her latest book, "Do you Have the Guts to be Healthy" was published in March 2021. As a trainer and naturopath, she truly loves seeing people transform themselves by trusting their bodies instead of getting caught up in the medical system. Practicing health is the only way to live the gift of life well!

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