Osteopath and physiotherapist

What are the differences between osteopath and physiotherapist? How do they work and which training path should they follow to practice the profession?

How is the profession of osteopath different from that of the physiotherapist? What are their conceptions of patient care? Who practices massage therapy? Let’s see what they consist of and what is the training path envisaged for each professional figure.

Differences between osteopath and physiotherapist

What does the osteopath do?

The osteopath does not dwell only on the painful area, but looks for the causes that generated the problem. Look at the body as a whole and evaluate the systems that cause pain. Before intervening with the treatments, make an initial diagnosis. Through osteopathic manipulation it stimulates and accelerates the processes of self-healing and self-regulation inherent in the human body. In summary it acts on the nervous and neurovegetative systems to bring the patient back to a state of health.

It does not act subsequently to traumas or accidents, but has an important preventive role. So what does the osteopath care? Mainly problems related to sports, skeletal muscle, postural, pediatric, dental and, in some cases, treats the pregnant woman. He often collaborates with medical specialists and physiotherapists to manage the care pathways, but also with sports doctors who carry out medical / sports visits and athletic trainers to improve sports performance and reduce the risk of injuries.

The 4 principles of osteopathy

  • the body is a unity
  • the body has the innate ability to regulate itself and to heal itself
  • structure and function are related
  • the individual is seen as a whole as a system that includes bones, muscles, viscera, circulatory, nervous, lymphatic, as well as psyche and posture

Does the osteopath use machinery?

The osteopath does not use machinery, but only uses the hands to treat the patient. During the initial medical history he looks for the origin of the problem through postural analysis and palpation. In the treatment phase he performs osteopathic manipulations on the structural, visceral and cranial sacral systems reducing the energy expenditure of the organism with the aim of accelerating self-healing and avoiding automatic compensations of the body to reduce pain.

The educational path of the osteopath

To become an osteopath it is necessary to obtain the Diploma of Osteopathy (also called D.O.) or a professionalizing academic degree. After the high school diploma it is possible to enroll in the Osteopathy Course which lasts 5 years and is full-time. If you already have a health degree, you can take the 5-year part-time course. Those who have a degree in Pharmacy, Sport Science or Biology can enroll in the 5-year course with exemptions. At the moment the Diploma of Osteopath is issued by private bodies.

In Italy osteopathy is practiced and the profession can be exercised, but it does not have a real recognition standard. Only a law has passed recently, 3/2018. The profession is protected by two articles of the Constitution: the art. 35 (The Republic protects work in all its forms) and art. 41 (Private economic initiative is free).

Anyone wishing to obtain a degree in Osteopathy is obliged to move abroad. In many countries this profession has been regulated for years. Here are some countries where osteopathy is recognized to all effects: United States, Great Britain, France, Portugal, Malta, Switzerland, Finland, Iceland, Australia, New Zealand.

What does the physiotherapist do?

The physiotherapist is the healthcare professional who has a 360 ° approach towards the patient, as he adopts the best strategies for the prevention, treatment, evaluation, enabling, rehabilitation and palliation of dysfunctions of the neuromusculoskeletal and nervous systems, cognitive, cardiocirculatory, respiratory, digestive and genitourinary. The physiotherapist works following traumas and accidents, chronic and acute neurological, orthopedic, rheumatological problems. It also intervenes following postural problems and dysfunctions of various kinds. Use physical therapies such as therapeutic exercises, manual therapies, massage therapy, holistic massage and mobilization to treat symptoms.

It is important to stress that the profession of physiotherapist does not conflict with that of the osteopath. They can be complementary. Often the physiotherapist works with other professionals such as physiatrists, orthopedists and osteopaths to follow the patient with targeted recovery programs. As far as sports are concerned, the collaboration is aimed at improving performance and reducing injuries.

Does the physiotherapist use machinery?

In addition to postural exercises and massages, the professional uses machinery such as lasers, tecar for tecar therapy, iontophoresis and ultrasound. It can intervene in post-traumatic situations with techniques such as magnetotherapy.

The training path

Unlike osteopathy where there is no real regulation, to practice the profession of physiotherapist it is necessary to obtain a short university degree of 3 years.

Contraindications of physiotherapy and osteopathy

The contraindications of osteopathy and physiotherapy are very few thanks to the great variety of techniques with which it is possible to treat the patient. The only problems could arise if these conditions are met:

  • during phases of fractures not yet consolidated;
  • pregnant: treatments can only take place between the third and eighth month of gestation. Gynecologist certification is required;
  • it is not advisable to have a session during a flu state;
  • in the presence of particular pathologies.


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