Osteopathy Vs Physiotherapy – What’s the difference?

Oct 24 2018

Hands up if you know the difference between Osteopathy and Physiotherapy? It’s a question we hear very often at Bodyset. We chatted to our Osteopath Paige and asked her to explain the two professions in detail. Read on to explore their similarities and differences, and find out how each discipline can help you.

What is Osteopathy?

In brief, Osteopathy focuses on the diagnosis, treatment, prevention and rehabilitation of musculoskeletal disorders. The term ‘musculoskeletal’ refers to bones, muscles, fascia, tendons and ligaments. Osteopathy looks at structural and mechanical dysfunctions of the body and aims to restore the whole system to a state of balance. Benefits include; pain relief, optimum functioning of your body; and protection against future illness and injury.

Osteopathy is based on 4 core principles;

  1. The body is a whole
  2. The body has its own ‘medicine chest’
  3. Structure governs function
  4. The rule of the artery is supreme

The key philosophy behind osteopathy is that the body functions unit. Furthermore, it has an innate, natural ability to self-regulate and heal itself; pretty amazing, we think!

Osteopaths believe that physical imbalances and strains to structure (including bones, muscles, fascia, tendons, and ligaments) impair your body’s ability to maintain itself in a state of health. To balance your structure, an osteopath follows the four key principles. As well as evaluating the area causing your symptoms, they’ll look at other factors which may contribute to the issue. These include environmental and lifestyle issues, family history and past traumas. Considering them all together, your osteopath will work to restore health and wellbeing to your body.

What does treatment involve?

Osteopathic treatment works across the ‘whole body’, increasing joint mobility, relieving muscle tension and enhancing blood and nerve supply to tissues. The techniques used help the body’s own healing mechanisms to restore full functioning of the body. They may include; soft tissue massage, joint manipulation, stretching, muscle energy techniques and acupuncture. Your osteopath will also give you health advice and exercises to promote postural correction. This holistic approach aims to help your body find a state of balance. Each and treatment is specifically tailored to a patient’s individual needs.

Osteopaths are trained to treat all types of patient, from children, babies and adults to elderly people, athletes and pregnant women.

What is the difference between Osteopathy and Physiotherapy?

There are arguably more similarities than differences between the two professions. Both osteopathy and physiotherapy treat musculoskeletal pain and use hands-on treatments. In addition, osteopaths and physiotherapists both train extensively in anatomy, physiology and pathology.


Osteopaths work from the viewpoint that the ‘body is a whole’: all the body’s systems are interconnected and it has a self-healing mechanism. Conversely, physiotherapy is more closely aligned with traditional Western medicine. The focus is more on the problem area presented and treatment is specific to that area, rather than the whole body.


The training for each profession also differs. We are trained for four years to use our hands, with over 2,000 hours of touch-training. As such, we’ve a highly-developed sense of palpation. Training focuses on musculoskeletal health and osteopaths are well-versed in spinal and joint manipulation. Osteopaths can also specialise in visceral, cranial, women’s health and paediatrics.

Physiotherapists generally train through the NHS for three years. Their rotations include musculoskeletal, neuromuscular, cardiovascular and respiratory training.

Physiotherapist training is often less ‘hands-on’ than osteopathy. Physiotherapists are taught to follow treatment protocols and provide rehabilitative exercise-based treatment. This approach is designed to help get patients back to full fitness after an ‘injury’.


While osteopathic treatment is 90% hands-on, the majority of physiotherapists use a 60% hands-on approach. Other techniques include observation of movement and electrotherapy. Physiotherapy treatment will focus on mobilising the site of injury rather than the ‘whole body’ approach of osteopathy.  There is also a greater emphasis on exercise-based management, which we believe to be vital in the recovery process.


Despite their differences in philosophy and treatment, the aim of both osteopathy and physiotherapy is to relieve pain and help your body work well. It’s important to remember, too, that no two practitioners will provide the exact same treatment. It’s worth researching and trying different people so that you find a practitioner who best suits you and your needs.

Both professions complement each other nicely. Osteopaths providing specific treatment for pain relief, and Physiotherapists providing excellent rehabilitation after injury or surgery. If you’re suffering from an injury or chronic pain, seeing both alongside one another or at different stages of your rehab is highly recommended. Hopefully, between the two, you’ll soon be living your life to the full, free of pain.

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