What is an Osteopath? What is Osteopathy?

What is an Osteopath? 

Osteopathy is a form of alternative or complementary medicine where a practitioner called an Osteopath uses manual therapy to treat musculoskeletal complaints.  The word osteopathy is derived from the ancient Greek “Osteo” meaning bone and “pathos” meaning disease/condition.

Osteopaths believe that the body is a unit. They see the body as a whole, so when you have pain in one region they will focus on that region, surrounding regions and distant regions of the body. They are determined to find the cause to prevent re-injury and not just mask your symptoms.

An Osteopath is a primary health care practitioner meaning you do not need a referral from a doctor to see one. Osteopaths can adequately diagnose and manage your musculoskeletal complaints or refer you to another medical professional if your pain is not musculoskeletal in nature. Osteopaths also have ability to refer you for imaging (e.g. X-Ray, Ultrasound, MRI, CT, etc.) if your complaint requires it.

A consult with an Osteopath in Sydney will consist of taking a case history and assessment of the appropriate regions to establish a diagnosis for your ache or pain. An Osteopath will use information they gather to formulate a tailored and patient centered treatment plan. Hands on therapy can involve soft tissue massage, stretching techniques, muscle activation techniques, joint articulation, joint manipulation among other techniques. Hands on therapy will be combined with exercise rehabilitation prescription and advice on how to best manage your condition until your next visit.

 What do Osteopath’s treat?

Common conditions an Osteopath will treat include:
Sydney CBD Osteopath Dr Marcus Ng treating Spondylolisthesis

  • Headaches
  • Back Pain
  • Postural Problems
  • Occupational injuries
  • Sports Injuries
  • Neck pain
  • Muscular Strains
  • Tendon Injuries
  • Shoulder pain
  • Knee Pain
  • Heel/Foot Pain
  • Shin Splints
  • Whiplash
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Sciatica

For more information on whether an Osteopath is the right choice for you, call our clinic on (02) 9252 2825 to talk to a practitioner.

Where does Osteopathy come from?

Osteopathy was founded in USA in 1892/1874 by a medical doctor Andrew Taylor Still. Medicine at this time was rudimental and after losing 4 of his children to illness he dedicated himself to finding alternative ways of creating positive impacts in healthcare.  What eventuated was Osteopathy which aimed to correct misalignments in the body to ensure structures/systems could function to their best ability and help in the maintenance of health.

There have been Osteopaths practicing in Australia for over 100 years. Osteopathy began being taught at a University level in the 1980’s. There are now osteopaths practicing in every state in the country. In 2014 there were 1,823 registered Osteopaths in Australia with numbers steadily increasing since.


How to become an Osteopath?

In Australia three Universities teach Osteopathy as a course (RMIT University, Victoria University and Southern Cross University). It takes 5 years of full-time learning to graduate as a Doctor of Osteopathy. The course is structured around a base of Health Science and subjects covered include: anatomy, biology, physiology, chemistry, pathology, neuroscience, microbiology, pharmacology and more. On top of this Osteopaths learn specific osteopathic technique application (including articulation, soft tissue technique, MET, HVLA, etc.). To graduate an osteopath has to complete a set amount of practical experience with real life patients under supervision. After graduating an Osteopath has to register with AHPRA (The National Health Practitioner Regulator) and obtain appropriate insurances. After this process an Osteopath can treat the public.


What is the difference between an Osteopath and a Chiropractor?

As a very general statement Chiropractor’s use joint manipulation as a main component of their hands on treatment. Osteopaths use a variety of different hands on techniques including joint manipulation but would not consider this technique an essential component in every treatment. This will definitely vary depending on the practitioner and their personal style of treatment.

Chiropractic came about in 1895, after the inventor of Chiropractic (Daniel D. Palmer) studied at AT Stills Osteopathic School in Kirksville. Here he developed his theory that many diseases stem from the spinal cord and spinal nerves. Fundamentally Chiropractors think about impacting the body’s neurological system with their hands on techniques. Osteopath’s do think about impacting the neurological system but also consider other body systems including, respiratory-circulatory (including lymphatics), metabolic/energy, biomechanical and behavioral systems.

Again as a broad statement, Osteopathic appointments will be longer in duration than Chiropractic appointments. This will vary with different practitioners and different practices.

What is the Difference between an Osteopath and a Physiotherapist?

Physiotherapy claims its origins from 460 B.C. with physicians like Hippocrates utilizing hands on techniques (massage, hydrotherapy, etc) to complement medical treatment at the time.  Modern physiotherapy developed in Sweden in 1813 from Per Henrick Ling. In 1906 physiotherapy came to Australia and has steadily improved in popularity since. There are now over 28,000 registered physiotherapists in Australia. Physiotherapy in Australia has always been closely linked to the medical/hospital system where osteopathy is mainly practiced in private clinics.

Both physiotherapists and osteopaths utilize evidence based medicine. As a general statement physiotherapists place heavy emphasis on exercise prescription. While osteopath do prescribe exercise to complement their sessions they place more emphasis on hands on techniques. Again this will vary heavily between practitioners.


*As scientific evidence and science improves so does a health professional knowledge on the most effective ways to treat certain conditions. This is why physiotherapists, osteopaths and chiropractors often overlap in the techniques they perform and advice they give.

By Sydney CBD Osteopath Dr Abbey Davidson

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