• Osteopath vs Physiotherapist

    February 12, 2020 | By Tony Yong

    Osteopath vs Physiotherapist Edmonton

    What is the difference between Osteopathy and Physiotherapy?  Tony at Innovation Physical Therapy gave us some information on it that might help!


    What is Osteopathy?

    The Canadian College of Osteopathy defines it as “A natural medicine which aims to restore function in the body by treating the causes of pain and imbalance. To achieve this goal the Osteopathic Manual Practitioner relies on the quality and finesse of his/her palpation (a diagnostic skill that the Osteopathic Manual Practitioner uses to feel or sense the state of the tissues or systems being examined) and works with the position, mobility, and quality of the tissues.”

    In more simple terms, an Osteopath is focused on the diagnosis, treatment, prevention, and rehabilitation of musculoskeletal disorders. The term ‘musculoskeletal’ refers to one’s bones, muscles, fascia, tendons, and ligaments. The goal of Osteopathy is to restore the body’s whole system to a state of balance and this is done by looking at structural and mechanical dysfunctions within the body.  Some benefits that have been noted are pain relief, improved body function and, most importantly, protection against future illness and injury.


    The 4 core principles of Osteopathy:

    1. Interaction between structure and function
      • Only a structure that is completely intact can function properly.
    2. The body is an organic unit
      • All structures and functions of the body are inseparably connected to each other. Mind, Body & Spirit
    3. The body contains self-regulating mechanisms
      • The body is capable of self-regulation, self-healing and health maintenance.
    4. Rational treatment is based on an understanding of the principles of body unity, self-regulation, and the interrelationship of structure and function.


    The key philosophy behind osteopathy is that the body functions as a unit. With this, it is believed that it has an innate, natural ability to self-regulate and self-heal.


    Osteopaths believe that your body’s ability to heal and maintain a proper state of health is impaired due to physical imbalances and strains to structure (bones, muscles, fascia, tendons, and ligaments). To ensure a balanced structure, an osteopath follows the above-noted principles. Along with evaluating the area causing your issues, they will look at other contributing factors that may be causing the symptoms.  This can include things such as environmental and lifestyle issues, family history and past traumas, etc. When taking everything into consideration together, your osteopath will work to restore health and wellbeing to your body.


    What does Osteopathic treatment involve?

    Osteopathic treatment focuses on the ‘whole body’ by increasing joint mobility, relieving muscle tension and enhancing the blood and nerve supply to tissues. The concept is that the techniques used help the body’s own healing mechanisms restore the full function of the body. These techniques can include: soft tissue massage, joint manipulation, stretching, acupuncture and more.  Osteopaths will also give you advice on health and exercises to promote correct posture.  The goal of this holistic approach is to help your body find a state of balance with each treatment specifically tailored to a patient’s individual needs.  Osteopathy is meant to treat patients of all ages from babies to seniors and is also tailored to treat athletes, pregnant women and much more.


    What is the difference between Osteopathy and Physiotherapy?

    Now that we better understand the area of Osteopathy, we now look at how it compares to Physiotherapy.  There are actually more similarities than differences between the two professions with both focused on musculoskeletal pain and the use of hands-on treatments. Also, both osteopaths and physiotherapists involve themselves in extensive training as it pertains to anatomy, physiology, and pathology.


    Philosophy Behind the Professions

    Osteopaths work from the viewpoint that the ‘body is a whole’ and that all the body’s systems are interconnected and it has a self-healing mechanism. On the flip side, physiotherapy is aligned more closely with traditional Western medicine and the focus is more on the problem area identified with treatment specified to that area as opposed to the whole body.



    The training for each profession also differs. Osteopaths are trained for four years to use their hands, which includes over 2,000 hours of touch-training.  This training helps osteopaths develop a high sense of palpation (skill used to sense or feel the state of the tissues or systems being examined)… Osteopaths can also choose to specialize in visceral, cranial, women’s health and pediatrics.


    Physiotherapist training typically takes three years in a Master’s program at accredited University and their rotations include musculoskeletal, neuromuscular, cardiovascular and respiratory training.


    Compared to osteopaths, physiotherapist training is multimodal including ‘hands-on’. Physiotherapists develop treatment plans inclusive of ‘hands-on’ (manual therapy), active therapeutic exercise, thermal and electrical modalities, as well as continual patient education.  The goal with this approach is to help get patients back to full function and mobility after an injury.


    Treatment Processes

    While osteopathic treatment is 90% hands-on, the majority of physiotherapists use a hands-on approach of about 60%. Other techniques used can include observation of movement and electrotherapy. Physiotherapy treatment tends to focus on functionally restoring the site of injury first, while looking at the respective biomechanical chain, as opposed to the ‘whole body’ approach of osteopathy.  Both Osteopaths and Physiotherapists typically leverage a greater emphasis on exercise-based management, which is believed to be a vital step in the recovery process.



    Aside from their differences as it relates to the overall philosophy and treatment, the goal of both osteopathy and physiotherapy is to relieve pain and restore the body’s function. It’s important to understand that no two practitioners will provide the exact same treatment and because of this, it is worth taking the time to research and potentially try different people so that you find a practitioner who works best for you and your needs.


    All things being considered, both professions are complementary to each other. Osteopaths providing specific treatment for pain relief and Physiotherapists providing excellent rehabilitation after injury or surgery. If you ever find yourself suffering from an injury or chronic pain, taking the opportunity to see both alongside one another or at different stages of your rehab can be very beneficial. Ideally, between the two, you’ll soon be living your life to the fullest, free of pain.


    For any questions or advice related to Osteopathy or Physiotherapy, contact one of our trained physiotherapists at Innovation Physical Therapy!