Osteopaths and physiotherapists are both manual therapists, meaning we use our hands to try to treat musculoskeletal injuries. Physiotherapists may sometimes use machines as well, such as ultrasound or TENS, but osteopaths are completely hands on. Osteopaths study for 5 years and are registered as doctors, with our specialisation being musculoskeletal injuries. Our education includes learning spinal manipulation so in addition to learning about the treatment and management of soft tissue injuries like muscle strains, we perform postural alignment. In other words, we treat both muscle/tendon injuries like a torn muscle or tendonitis, as well as joint problems like back pain, sciatica, headaches etc. Osteopaths are not part of the public health system; we work only in private practice. Osteopaths believe that the structure and function of your body are inter-related. That is, we think that when there is a problem with the structure then your body doesn’t quite function right. So our treatment revolves around correcting the structure so that firstly your pain improves, but also so that your function will improve. We may facilitate this improvement by prescribing stretches, exercises, or advice on ergonomics and lifestyle to try to prevent a relapse.
The education of a physiotherapist is more diverse as it includes hospital placements in areas of health care including rehabilitation, cardio-respiratory care, paediatrics and women’s health. Physiotherapists are part of the public health system, so you will find them working in hospitals. You will also find them working in private practice, to a large extent focusing on the rehabilitation of soft tissue injuries. This could include things like ice or heat, as well as taping or strapping the affected area. Some physiotherapists also do a one year post-graduate degree in manipulation, and they are specifically referred to as manipulative physiotherapists. Physiotherapists in general may be less hands on than an osteopath and more exercise-based.
Both osteopaths and physiotherapists are covered by private health insurance and the medicare “Enhanced Primary Care” scheme, and both are registered health practitioners with government health authorities. Osteopaths and physiotherapists have been around for a long time, so we’re both definitely doing something right. To the best of my knowledge these are what I believe to be the similarities and differences. I hope it helps you understand which one you should pick next time you have a problem. If you are unsure whether an osteopath is the best option for your particular problem, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.