Difference between an Osteopath and a Physiotherapist

Ever wondered what the difference between a Physiotherapist and an Osteopath is? Who should you see? We give you all the info you need to know about what makes us similar and yet different. You can check out our video “What’s the difference between an Osteopath and a Physiotherapist?”. Our video with Principal Osteopath – Giulian and Head Physio Glenda discusses exactly how they are the same and yet different!

What is Osteopathy?

In Australia, Osteopaths complete 4-5 years university training. They are registered with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA). Osteopathy is a form of manual therapy that adopts a whole body approach to diagnosis, management and treatment of many acute and chronic conditions. Osteopaths will address relevant muscles, connective tissue, bones, and various body systems. They aim to restore balance and better manage the presenting condition. These conditions can include:

  • Headaches and Migraines
  • Neck and Back pain
  • Work injuries
  • Sporting injuries
  • Shoulder Pain
  • Pregnancy related pain
  • Joint and Muscle pain
  • Neurological pain

Techniques include

  • Soft tissue massage
  • Positional release techniques
  • Stretching
  • Mobilisation and articulation of specific joints and tissues.
  • Manipulation
  • ‘Indirect’ release and gentle techniques
  • Muscle Energy Technique
  • Pain Education

What is Physiotherapy?

In Australia, Physiotherapists also complete 4 years of university training. They are also registered with  (AHPRA). Some will work in a clinic while others will work in hospitals with all sorts of different patients. In hospitals they may work with spinal injury, stroke, post surgery, patients with cardiac problems and much more

A Physiotherapist is trained to look at your condition, diagnose the problem, and also explain what is happening. They will make a treatment plan that will also take into account your lifestyle, activities and general health.

When might you see a Physiotherapist?

You can see a Physiotherapist when you experience the following problems.

  • Neck pain
  • Back pain
  • Sciatica.
  • Postural issues.
  • Sports injuries.
  • Headaches
  • Tendon problems.
  • Hip, knee and ankle pain.
  • Shoulder, elbow and wrist pain.
  • Arthritis.

A Physiotherapist may use the following:

  • Exercise programs to improve movement and strength.
  • Joint manipulation and mobilisation.
  • Muscle education to improve control
  • Soft tissue treatment
  • Dry needling.
  • Electrotherapy
  • Pain Education

So what’s the difference between an Osteopath and a Physiotherapist?

Whilst both do training in anatomy, health sciences and manual therapy, there are some differences between them. Osteopathy generally has a more hands-on approach, as treatment is dominated with manual therapy. Physiotherapists will often include other modalities such as electrotherapy, hydrotherapy and ultrasound. Both are qualified with unique skill sets.

Osteopaths are well versed in the application of spinal and joint manipulation in comparison to Physiotherapists. Osteopaths will look to treat the body as a whole whilst physiotherapists are generally area specific and target the tissues involved and are much more likely to include exercise as a part of treatment.

Physiotherapists are trained with a strong focus on exercise-based management as it plays an important role in their treatment of injuries. Many physiotherapists have now also done extra training with joint and spinal manipulation to compliment their current skills.

Same same, but different

Arguably there are more similarities between the two professions than there are differences. Both are equally qualified and trained in the treatment and management of many conditions. The one that best suits your needs will ultimately come down to personal preference and also what may have assisted you in the past.

Dry Needling and Osteopathy

Dry Needling and Osteopathy. What is Dry Needling?

Osteopath Dr Jess Watson explains

Dry needling is a treatment that uses fine, single-use needles, the same as those used in acupuncture. Dry needling and Osteopathy is becoming more common. Your osteopath may use dry needling in conjunction to other osteopathic techniques when they see fit. Dry needling is used to deactivate and help loosen tightened spots within the muscle. These tight spots are known as ‘trigger points’. It is also used to improve nerve conduction, blood supply, the strength of tendons and ligaments, and to stimulate reflex mechanisms within the area.

The overall goal of dry needling is to reduce muscle pain and spasm, increase range of motion of the surrounding joints, and provide an overall increase in function of the body.

When would dry needling be beneficial?

A number of conditions treated by Osteopaths can benefit from dry needling. Dry needling will normally make up only a small part of your osteopathic treatment. The following conditions can respond well to dry needling:

  • Tennis/golfers elbow
  • Back and neck pain
  • Headaches
  • RSI conditions
  • Joint sprains
  • Piriformis syndrome
  • Rotator cuff injuries
  • Acute sporting injuries
  • Chronic pain conditions

together dry needling and osteopathy can be very helpful.

Is it painful?

As pain is a subjective experience, no patient’s experience with dry needling is the same. However, as the needle used is so fine most patients do not feel the needle pierce the skin.

Most commonly once the needle has entered the muscle, a small twitch or cramping sensation can be felt. There may be a small ache, slight numbness or heaviness. This feeling normally subsides and can be considered a good sign. The ache can indicate that the correct point has been found, and your muscle will soon relax.

Will I feel sore after?

Most patients respond very well to this form of treatment, however, similarly to all manual therapy techniques, some soreness may occur. Any sorenesss usually resolves 24-48 hours post treatment.

Is it the same as acupuncture?

No. Dry needling does use the same thin needles, but the objectives of the treatments are different. Dry needling is most commonly used to treat tight areas of muscles, known as ‘trigger points’. Acupuncture however focuses on inner body energy (Qi). Acupuncture needles are placed in very specific points to help facilitate and improve the Qi. Stimulating Acupuncture points can allow the body to properly heal.

Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture is a separate degree at university.

Dry needling is an adjunctive course for Osteopaths. Practitioners who have a degree such as an Osteopathy or Physiotherapy can do the training.

Osteopaths that utilise dry needling are, therefore, not acupuncturists unless they also hold a degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine, or a masters of Acupuncture.

This article was written by Osteopath – Jess Watson from our Alexandra Hills Clinic

Spinal manipulation

Spinal manipulation endorsed as ‘best practice’ for back pain.

3rd leading disease burden in Australia with an estimated cost of over $9 Billion per year. The majority of sufferers will consult their GP seeking care in the first instance with half being prescribed medication as a first line treatment. In the past 5 years, prescription of pain relieving medication has increased from 5 million to 7 million prescriptions.

Paracetamol is the 4th most prescribed drug in Australia. The number of deaths from prescription pain medications – opioids – has increased 61% between 2004 – 2014. 58% of non–cancer pain medication prescriptions are for musculoskeletal issues The founder of Osteopathy, American Physician Dr Andrew Still, became disillusioned with the effectiveness of the medicines available to him in the 1800’s and developed an approach to health care to circumvent or at least complement drug prescription. Over a century later, after a relentless campaign to discredit the ‘hands on’ approach that Dr Still popularised, the American Medical Association has finally agreed with him and revised their best practice guidelines for managing back pain, endorsing spinal manipulation, massage and heat as first line treatments before medication is prescribed.

These recommendations are welcomed by Brisbane based Osteopath, Dr Giulian Di Venuto, who said ‘there seems to have been a ‘turf war’ for the back pain patient for a long time. Osteopaths have been advocating the use of spinal manipulation, massage, heat and exercise to help people with back pain since the 1800’s. It is good that the evidence base for what we do is starting to catch up and that eminent leaders in health care, such as the American Medical Association, are recommending with confidence that we are amongst the best people to assess and treat musculoskeletal pain such as back pain in the first instance.’ Osteopath, Dr. Di Venuto advises that most cases of back pain resolve within 6 weeks and whilst pain can be sever at times, it is best to try and keep moving.

‘People are vulnerable when they are in pain. They are often anxious and scared and believe that their pain will persist. I agree with drug therapy and the role it plays in pain medicine, but it is more important than ever that patients are referred to the most appropriate people for examination and treatment because the ‘quick fix’ is not working.

Medication dependency is real and so are the side effects. When there is evidence for interventions that are better and safer than medication, they should be used in preference and that is what the AMA is also saying. Osteopaths, physiotherapists and chiropractors have been advocating for a long time now that therapies such as spinal manipulation, massage and exercise, should be preferred to medication in the short and long term treatment of back pain.’

Osteopaths, Chiropractors and Physiotherapists are University trained, registered health care professionals, regulated by government agency, the Australian Health Practitioners Registration Authority (AHPRA) and specifically trained to assess, diagnose and manage musculoskeletal issues such as back and neck pain. Osteopaths and Chiropractors are trained in spinal manipulation during their undergraduate university training. If you are interested in seeking advice from a registered Osteopath, or you want to learn more about us you can learn more on our website or Osteopathy Australia.

Acupuncture now at MOVE New Farm Clinic

Acupuncture could be a perfect adjunct to your treatment


Acupuncture is an amazing therapy that can greatly complement Osteopathic treatment. Over the years we have found so many patients benefiting from Acupuncture treatment so we decided it was time to bring on some Acupuncturists to our MOVE team! Last year we welcomed 2 Acupuncturists, Susan and Nick to our team in the city and now we welcome our first Acupuncturist to New Farm.
If you are interested in combining Acupuncture with your Osteopathic treatment we can work closely with our Acupuncturists to provide you with the best possible treatment outcomes to get you feeling better fast!

A bit about Jacinta

Jac Profile 1

Jacinta graduated from Endeavour College of Natural Health with a Bachelor of Health Science (Acupuncture).
Natural health and wellness have always been a passion of hers and after experiencing the benefits of acupuncture herself she decided to pursue a career in it. Her particular areas of interest include treating acute and chronic musculo-skeletal conditions such as:
– Low back pain
– Neck and shoulder tension
– Sciatica
– Osteoarthritis
– Trauma
Others areas of interest include:
– Insomnia
– Fatigue
– Headaches/migraines
– Digestive disorders
– Mental health issues
– General health maintenance
Jacinta will be starting at our New Farm Clinic from Friday 11th September 2015. Please call our reception on 3854 0087 to make an appointment

Special starting offer for September

Do you want to see our Acupuncturist Jacinta at MOVE Osteopathy New Farm Clinic?
For the month of September 2015 a $30 ½ hr massage is available with any Acupuncture session had during September.
Please call our reception at our New Farm Clinic
Ph: 3854 0087 to make you appointment and organise your acupuncture and massage treatment

Not sure? Want to read more? These recent great articles explain some benefits backed by research.

Acupuncture for pain relief

Today, acupuncture is one of the most accepted complementary therapies in the country, with more than 80 per cent of GPs referring patients to an accredited acupuncturist in the past 12 months. Australian hospitals are finally catching up with what the Chinese have long known -acupuncture is a great alternative form of pain relief. read more

Acupuncture impacts same biologic pathways in rats that pain drugs target in humans

The benefits of acupuncture are well known by those who use it, but such proof is anecdotal. This research, the culmination of a number of studies, demonstrates how acupuncture might work in the human body to reduce stress and pain, and, potentially, depression read more

New research showing acupuncture improves circulation could have all sorts of benefits for healing damaged tissues.

Read more about how a new study has found Acupuncture significantly enhances peripheral blood flow

Giulian’s work in Italy

It is interesting for and osteopath to be involved, as we generally do not see this level of acute trauma in our clinics however; the diagnostic process is the same. There are 12 orthopaedic surgeons on rotation who primarily operate from hospitals in Milan and Turin, 1 GP, 1 nurse, 1 physiotherapist, usually 4 or so paramedics who drive the ambulances…and 1 osteopath. it’s a hugely educational collaboration and I have learnt so much about simple orthopaedic operations, their indications and when they are likely to be effective or not. This knowledge will greatly assist my regular work in Australia and help to improve our management particularly of tendon and ligament injuries.
As well as trauma patients, I am working with my usual group of skiers helping them improve their mechanics and skiing performance. Word has spread (passa parola in Italian) to other elite athletes who are in the region and I have been treating some world class cyclists and a professional golfer who came primarily because their skiing friends had noticed the difference in their performance and they wondered if I could do something for them.
I love it when people start to understand how osteopathy can help them feel and function better as opposed to just using us when they are in pain. It is very satisfying as an osteopath to work with elite athletes who are so in tune with their body’s and their usual ‘output’ because when we find things that we feel are important to address, even if it is a subtle experience for them to have it addressed, they can feel a significant difference in their output…it’s a confirmation that we are on the right track.
By working with elite athletes and processing their response to osteopathic biomechanical optimisation, it has made me more aware and convinced of how to better help our ‘weekend warriors’ and us regular folk, who just want to feel and function better.
See you all soon back in Brisbane.
For move information about MOVE Osteopathy – Please visit us at our website