Osteopathy: Why and When to See an Osteopath 2024

osteopathy vs physiotherapy 2024

The Difference Between Osteopathy, Physiotherapy & Chiropractic

We’ve all found ourselves in a scenario where we’ve had aches and pains that just won’t go away, and we resort to Googling the problem (only to be unhelpfully told our shoulder pain is a symptom of imminent death). 

In most cases, aches and pains can be remedied with a trip to see an osteopath, physio or chiropractor - but with little nuances defining the three practises, figuring out which professional to see can be confusing.

In this post we’ll help you understand the differences between the three, who to see and when to see them.

At West 1, we offer both osteopathy services and physiotherapy services as the two go hand-in-hand, so let’s start there…

why and when to see an osteopath 2024

Understanding the differences in practices


Physiotherapy is a practice often applied to aid recovery in the case of injury, illness or disability. Typically physiotherapists will treat things like sporting injuries, chronic back and neck pain, and musculoskeletal (MSK) injuries, focusing on the specific body parts that have been affected to relieve pain and help improve strength and mobility.

Techniques used include deep tissue massage, taping to help secure the injured joints and acupuncture. ‍

Physiotherapy can also be beneficial for easing joint pain or focusing on specific muscle groups ahead of sporting events.


Osteopathy, on the other hand, looks at the body as a whole, focusing on how the joints, muscles and ligaments work together in order to help realign your form.

Typically, osteopaths will examine your posture and range of motion, as well as understand more about your lifestyle to find the cause of any underlying problems. From this, they can then help to realign the body by moving, stretching and massaging the muscles and joints, and can provide guidance and exercises to prevent issues evolving into an injury or a more serious problem in the future.

Think of an osteopath as the ‘pre-covery’, supporting physical wellbeing and joint health before problems arise, and physiotherapy as the ‘recovery’ for aches, pains and injuries should they surface. 

Equally, osteopathy can also support conditions like arthritis by minimising joint inflammation to prevent damage and, in some cases, slow the condition. if you are interested to learn more about this topic, read our how osteopathy can help with Arthritis article.

Q: But I’m not injured or in pain so why would I see an osteopath?

Sometimes we experience little niggles in the body. It could be a feeling of limited mobility or tightness in a joint when reaching for the top shelf, or a lingering discomfort after sitting slumped in a desk chair all week, but nonetheless it’s present and it’s a sign of an imbalance. With ‘minor’ issues such as these, people tend to sweep things under the rug but it only evolves into a worse condition, resulting in pain and a trip to the physio or a GP. Visiting an osteopath can help assess and realign the body well before problems even arise. 

Or if you are interested in finding out what you can do for yourself to help with issues such as arthritis, read our article highlighting 4 exercises to help with arthritis.

And what about chiropractic? 

Chiropractic is a practice to manually relieve problems with the bones, muscles and joints. Both osteopathy and chiropractic are very similar in their manipulation of joints and the techniques used. Where the two differ is in their philosophy. 

Where osteopathy looks at the body as a whole, chiropractic focuses on the alignment of the spine and is grounded in the principle that your nervous system is central to your health.

Typically chiropractors use specific movements or motions that ‘force’ the body back into place to restore the functionality and position of the joints. This might sound mildly terrifying but aside from some pops and cracks you should not feel any intense pain. Some people may feel mildly sore after treatments but, generally speaking, if you weren’t in pain before chiropractic treatment, then you won’t be after. 

When To See An Osteopath?

Conditions that affect the muscles, bones and joints, such as:

  • Lower back, neck, shoulder or elbow pain (discomfort as opposed to pain after injury)
  • Arthritis
  • Joint pain in the pelvis, hips and legs
  • Muscle pain associated with driving, work or pregnancy

Hip pain can be varied and complex, it has various root causes. Hip pain is actually one of the most commonly reported areas of pain, in particular with those who suffer from chronic pain. It is important not to simply “live with it” and seek specialist help when it comes to problem areas such as knees, lower back and hips. Read about hip pain in more detail in our Osteopathy: Helping To Alleviate Hip Pain article.

When To See A Physiotherapist?

Conditions that affect the bones, joints and soft tissue, for example: 

  • back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain after accidents or injury
  • Sports injuries

Conditions involving the brain or nervous system such as:

  • Movement problems / mobility issues as a result of a stroke, multiple sclerosis (MS) or Parkinson's disease

Heart and circulation issues, such as rehabilitation after a heart attack.

Complications with the lungs and breathing difficulties, such as:

  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) 
  • Or cystic fibrosis

Some may question, what if I need to see both? This could actually be extremely beneficial for those who are very active, play sport regularly or run long distance. Since osteopathy focuses on what we like to call “pre-covery”, seeing an osteopath pre intensive exercise can provide you with expert preparation for your activity or event. This could help improve your form and prevent injuries. Pair this with a follow up session at the physio and you’ll have a much more effective post exercise recovery which will help you be ready for future events or further activity. We have a good case study for marathon runners on this very topic. Read our The Benefits of Physiotherapy and Osteopathy Pre and Post Marathon article for more detail.

When To See A Chiropractor?

Support with pain in muscles and joints, such as:

  • Back pain
  • Neck pain
  • Shoulder pain
  • Elbow pain
  • Pain from osteoarthritis

In conclusion

Now you have a bit of clarity on the three practises, it may be easier to identify which you need and at what stage. But if you’re still unsure, feel free to get in touch with us and we can help get to the root of the problem and ensure you find the help you need.

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