WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN OSTEOPATHY, EXERCISE PHYSIOLOGY AND PHYSIOTHERAPY?

Shane Bruce
OSTEOPATH AND TRAINER
Minutes to read

As an osteopath, the question “What is the difference between an osteo and a _____” is one of the most asked questions I find myself answering. Especially since at The Biomechanics, we offer both exercise physiology and osteopathy.

So, considering I’m stuck in my house in Melbourne Lockdown, there is no better time than now to answer this question for you all.

By the end of this blog I expect you will be fully aware of the main differences between each of the 3 professions and will get the additional bonus of my personal thoughts as to where this may change in the future!

Let’s start by taking a quick trip down memory lane and investigate the history of the 3 modalities.

EXERCISE PHYSIOLOGY

The earliest mention I have found of exercise physiology in text was from 1855 in the American Journal of Medical Sciences however the first Exercise Physiology lab was established in the United States of America at Harvard university in the 1890’s. R. Tait McKenzie further developed exercise physiology as he began implementing physical examinations before and after exercise training to quantify the beneficial effects of regular physical exercise on the human body. From this point, exercise physiology has progressed and since the early 2000’s here in Australia we have seen the profession and its name continue to build.

PHYSIOTHERAPY

As early as 460BC there has been detail of massage, manipulation and other manual therapy techniques by the likes of Hippocrates and Galenus. The first documented origins of physiotherapy aligning closer to what we see today was in Sweden. Per Henrik Ling founded the Royal Institute of Gymnastics in 1813 in Stockholm. Lings training of gymnastics was not only for athletic purposes, but also for medical benefits for the athlete. This included massage, manipulation and exercise. In 1887, physiotherapists were given official registration in Sweden through the National Board of Health and Welfare. In 1894 the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy was formed in Great Britain and in 1913 the school of physiotherapy at the university of Otago in New Zealand was founded. In 1921 the Physical Therapy Association (Now called the American Physical Therapy Association - APTA) was created and in that same year the first physiotherapy research was published in The PT Review.

OSTEOPATHY

Osteopathy was founded in Kirksville, Missouri, USA in the 1874 by Dr. Andrew Taylor Still. Still was an American Physician and surgeon and the son of a surgeon. In 1892, Still opened the American School of Osteopathy and began teaching his methods and philosophies to his students as the demand for osteopathy in the region was increasing. In 1917, the British School of Osteopathy was founded in London by J Martin Littlejohn – one of Stills first students. Osteopathy was first regulated in Australia in 1978 and is now the fastest growing allied health profession in Australia.

Who should I see for pain?

Each profession has a rich history of caring for people, promoting health and assisting in pain. However, as the landscape of healthcare evolves so is how we understand and approach pain management. If you’re in pain, we recommend you read this blog before continuing.

A typical explanation of each profession describes how they differ. For example; ‘osteos and physios may use manual therapy and exercise rehabilitation, whereas exercise physiologists mainly focus on exercise.’ However, there is so much more potential value in seeing a health professional than this simplistic explanation.  There are also differences in the way professionals will use their skills and treatment within the same profession. I would consider myself one of these people given I am an osteopath that uses manual therapy quite sparsely in my consultations.

At The Biomechanics, we believe if the practitioner you are seeing is following best practice guidelines and following up to date evidence then it should not matter whether they are a physio, osteo or an exercise physiologist. What will matter is that they encourage you, include you and put you in the driver’s seat of your own recovery and treatment plan, and support you through the process of reaching whatever your goal is while working alongside them.

Who should I see for complaints other than pain?

Each profession is qualified to assist with injury rehabilitation, however for chronic illness and disease (for example, diabetes and cardiovascular disease), typically an exercise physiologist is who you would work with. In Australia, we are lucky to have access to a variety of allied health professionals. This is especially beneficial as research shows care given by a team of practitioners of different professions results in improved outcomes (1).

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How are we different here at The Biomechanics?

While we have both osteopaths and exercise physiologists in our clinic, the way we work and treat the clients we see is essentially indistinguishable. We have a strong emphasis on allowing every single client of ours the opportunity to tell their story and for this reason we will ensure each initial consultation allows up to 60 minutes as well as subsequent consultations if this time is needed.

Our approach to treatment and therapy is based on the most up to date evidence at our disposal and therefore we all treat very similarly. In my opinion, this is the way it should be, and this is how I see the future of health care. When it comes to pain and injury management, whether you see a physiotherapist, osteopath or an exercise physiologist really shouldn’t matter. What should matter is that they are following best practice and using evidence-based methods to ensure you are working towards your health goal. To go one step further, you should leave your appointment with a health professional feeling heard, understood and empowered.

REACH OUT IF YOU WOULD LIKE SOME HELP FROM OUR TEAM

REFERENCE:

1. Momsen A, Rasmussen J, Nielsen C, Iversen M, Lund H. Multidisciplinary team care in rehabilitation: An overview of reviews. Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine. 2012;44(11):901-912.

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