Osteopathy: What is it and How is it Different from Massage Therapy?


In many places, osteopathy has only recently gained popularity, but what is it? If it’s just another type of manual therapy, how does it differ from massage therapy? Those are great questions, let’s take a look!

What is Osteopathy?

Osteopathy is a manual therapy (physiotherapy, massage therapy, chiropractic all fall under the “manual therapy” category too) that focuses on the whole person. This means that in osteopathy, practitioners believe that our bodily structures are related to our overall function and wellness.

Osteopathy varies in scope depending on where in the world you live. In the United States, many who study osteopathy go on to become DOs (Osteopathic Physicians/Doctors of Osteopathy) through the completion of 4 years of medical school with specializations in osteopathic techniques[1]. Many DOs in the United States are also practicing primary care physicians and are fully licensed in all 50 states.

In Canada, Osteopathy is unregulated and those that study osteopathy cannot use the title of DO, Osteopath, or Doctor of Osteopathy unless they have received their training in the United States and have been approved by the College of Physicians and Surgeons. Those that study osteopathy in Canada gain the title of Osteopathic Manual Practitioner and cannot practice medicine, but can practice hands-on manual therapy which is considered a “complementary” therapy as it compliments treatment by a primary care physician.

What Does an Osteopath Do?

Osteopaths use manual therapies such as stretching, massaging and manipulations on the musculoskeletal system to help with pain, lymphatic drainage, increase mobility, help with circulation and other bodily functions of concern.

One of the main principles of osteopathy is the belief that the body is able to heal, regulate and maintain itself and thus therapies that address areas of concern help those processes along when dealing with dysfunctions.

These techniques are similar to what you will experience from other manual practitioners with the main difference being the overall method and philosophy of the practitioner and the patient’s specific needs (certain manual therapies are better indicated for certain conditions).

Osteopathy vs. Massage Therapy: What’s the Difference?

If osteopathy is a manual therapy like massage, what’s the difference? While both types of manual therapy share many similarities such as both types of practitioners receiving extensive education in the physiology and anatomy of the body, having a holistic approach to patient health-care and an overlap of conditions they treat, the overarching philosophy and methods of osteopathy and massage differ.

In massage therapy, the focus is placed on the soft tissues (muscles) and the primary method of treatment is touch-based. These touch-based treatments are proven to be effective in the treatment of various pain conditions, as well as showing improvement to feelings of stress, mental health and well-being.

In osteopathy, the method of treatment can be described as a combination of various manual therapies – using touch, soft tissue and visceral manipulations, joint mobilization, and patient home-care to achieve the desired treatment outcomes. Through palpitations, the practitioner will work to find areas of restriction, and assess the “whole picture.”

Osteopathic Manual Practitioners (in Canada) often work in clinics like Back 2 Hands Massage Therapy alongside Massage Therapists allowing patients to take a holistic approach to their health by working with both practitioners to address their concerns (when indicated).

When Should I See an Osteopath?

Osteopathy can be indicated as a complementary treatment to a wide variety of health concerns, these include but are not limited to:

  • Headaches and migraines
  • Postpartum care
  • Injury – sports, repetitive strain, etc
  • TMJ
  • Chronic pain
  • General pain – back, neck, shoulder, etc.
  • Acid reflux
  • Bloating
  • Bowel and bladder symptoms (specifically visceral osteopathy)
  • Whiplash & post-concussive syndrome
  • Pediatric concerns.

If you are experiencing a health concern that is not responding to conventional treatment or other manual therapies, you may consider seeking an assessment with an Osteopathic Manual Practitioner.


Osteopathy takes a whole-person approach to your health care and wellbeing and trusts in the body’s ability to self-regulate and heal. Using a combination of manual therapy techniques, an osteopath can assess and treat your area(s) of concern with a holistic view, working to ensure treatment isn’t just “dealing with” your symptoms but instead addressing the whole picture.

It’s important to note that osteopathy varies in scope depending on where you live so it’s important to look into osteopathic care where you live and find a reputable practitioner. For instance, in the United States, Osteopathy is fully regulated and many Osteopaths complete medical school and go on to offer primary care with a specialization in osteopathic techniques. In Canada, osteopathy is unregulated and practitioners are not medical doctors, instead, they are referred to as Osteopathic Manual Practitioners.

Read Also: 4 Benefits of Regular Manual Therapy Appointments

[1] https://choosedo.org/learn-about-osteopathic-medicine/

Osteopathy: What is it and How is it Different from Massage Therapy?

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