So what is the difference between physio/physiotherapy and osteopathy? I’ve been an Edinburgh osteopath for 28 years. And I have an ex-sister-in-law who was an Edinburgh physio. So I think I’m reasonably well-qualified to answer this.
If you read the definition of “osteopathy” on the Institute of Osteopathy’s website, it’s very succinct. “Osteopathy is a gentle and effective hands-on approach to healthcare, based on the principle that the way your body moves influences how it functions“.
The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy defines “physiotherapy” as follows… “Physiotherapy helps restore movement and function when someone is affected by injury, illness or disability“. Which I’d say is a description of what physiotherapy does rather than what it is. Further down the page, they also state “Physiotherapy is a science-based profession and takes a ‘whole person’ approach to health and wellbeing, which includes the patient’s general lifestyle.” Maybe that’s more helpful.
Other official bodies provide different definitions for both of them. It’s fair to say that there is some overlap in the definitions.
So, what’s the difference between physio and osteopathy?
Historically, osteopathy is definitely more hands-on. Osteopathy is much older in the UK, originating in the mid-USA in the 1880’s. The earliest osteopaths started practising in the UK around 1910. Some say that Physiotherapy originated in Sweden in 1813 from the field of gymnastics. It really evolved in the UK since the inception of the NHS from 1948 onwards. Physiotherapists have gone through many fashions over the decades. Whereas osteopaths have consistently maintained a hands-on approach.
Nowadays some commentators will tell you that there are more differences within each profession than there are between them. I agree. But it’s probably fair to say that the main difference between physio and osteopathy is still that osteopaths do more hands-on work than physios.