What is the difference between an osteo and a physio?

What is the difference between osteopaths and physiotherapists? 

This is a question that we encounter frequently, and the answer is not always simple. Truthfully, there are more similarities between the two than differences. However, the distinguishing features of both mean that patients tend to gravitate to one more than the other based their own experiences.

Qualifications for Osteo and Physio are similar

In Australia, both osteopaths and physiotherapists are registered with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) and are nationally regulated professions. Students of both disciplines study anatomy and manual therapies for 4-5 years at university, including many practical elements. Both commonly work in private practice, whilst a number of physiotherapists also work in hospital and specialist rehabilitation settings.

The Philosophy 

A key philosophical feature of osteopathy is the holistic (whole body) approach to diagnosis and management of injury or dysfunction. Your osteopath will consider and address all relevant muscles, connective tissues, bones and other body systems and not just the affected area. This relates to the desire to find not just the ‘what’ of your pain, but also the ‘why’. 

The Technique 

Osteopaths will use massage, myofascial release, stretching, dry needling, joint mobilisations, muscle energy technique and education to manage patients. Furthermore, they will often use joint manipulations (often associated with a ‘cracking’ or ‘popping’ sound) where safe and appropriate- something that physiotherapists typically use less. Osteopaths tend to use more direct, hands-on therapy, whilst physiotherapists often prescribe more exercise rehabilitation. Of course, you will find members of both professions who buck these trends.

What can Osteos and Physios treat?

We often get asked ‘Should I choose an Osteo or Physio for lower back pain’ or ‘should I choose an Osteo or Physio for shoulder injuries’? Physiotherapists and osteopaths alike will treat a wide variety of problems including but not limited to:

  • Headaches/Migraines
  • Neck Pain
  • Low Back Pain
  • Sciatica
  • Tendonitis/Tendinopathy
  • Arthritis
  • Sports Injuries
  • Shoulder, Elbow and Wrist pain
  • Hip, Knee and Ankle Pain
  • Foot Pain (including plantar fasciitis/fasciopathy)

At the end of the day, both professions are capable of resolving various types of aches and pains. Patients should decide which approach is best suited to their needs and which they prefer based on their own experiences.