Physio, Osteo – What is the difference?

By November 27, 2018Why you're here

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 You have just injured your low back picking up a box off the ground! It is important you get this seen to in order to ensure the best recovery possible, but who on earth do you see and how do you decide who is best for you?

Physios and Osteos have different ways of thinking based on the concepts each profession was built around. In order to understand how each profession differs you first need an idea of their history.


In Australia, massage therapists used to work mainly with nurses in hospitals to stop patients from developing bed sores and to keep them moving. At this time many doctors and members of the general public were sceptical of the use of massage therapy in patient management. However, this view changed during World War I through the effective rehabilitation of injured soldiers with massage therapy, hot baths and electrotherapy. Active therapy started to replace passive as the main therapeutic tool. By the end of 1918, both the physical therapies and the AMA (Australian Massage Association) were more widely known.


Osteopathy was founded by Dr. Andrew Taylor Still in 1874. Dr. Still was a medical doctor at the time and became increasingly sceptical of the use of medicine to help disease. He began to believe medicine and “drugs” often did more harm than good (remember things like arsenic were being used back then). After, the loss of three children in his care to spinal meningitis in 1864, Dr. Still believed there were inadequacies within medicine and was driven to develop an alternative way to find health. Thus, Osteopathy was born! Dr. Still believed by correcting alterations in structures of the body through passive and active therapies, optimal function could be restored.

So what is the difference between a Physiotherapist and Osteopath?

There are a lot differences between the professions, however in saying this there are also differences between practitioners in the same profession. Here is a GENERAL outline of what each profession involves.


Physiotherapists work in all sectors of healthcare, including public hospitals, private practice, rehabilitation centres, sporting clubs and community health centres. They can specialise in rehabilitation of various body systems such as the neurological system and cardiovascular system. An example of this would be the rehabilitation of a stroke patient. A physiotherapist will generally include some sort of rehabilitation EXERCISE in their treatment plans.


Osteopaths can work in all sectors of healthcare except for hospitals. Osteopaths treat the body as a whole. Your osteopath may look at other parts of your body, as well as the area that is troubling you. For example, if you have low back pain your osteopath may assess your hips to see if there is a connection to your pain. Osteopaths have the ability to perform soft tissue massage, manipulations (“crack”) and prescribe exercise to their patients.

Essentially there is A LOT of overlap between the professions and the more research that continues to emerge, the more similar the professions are becoming. A good physio will treat the body as a whole (like an osteo), and a good osteo will prescribe exercises when necessary (like a physio). Regardless, a well versed and up-to-date practitioner of any field will treat their patients as individuals and develop a treatment plan to suit them accordingly.

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