All About Mum, Pregnancy

Physio vs Osteo

September 1, 2015

Both during pregnancy, and after the baby’s birth, it’s common to experience muscle and ligament soreness due to the extra pressure on our bodies, from carrying a baby for 9 months, and then actually carrying a baby around! Breastfeeding also puts a lot of strain on our upper body (back, neck and shoulders). Physiotherapy and Osteopathy are two different forms of treatment which may help, but many people aren’t really sure what the difference between them is and which one to use. I use both currently as I feel they complement each other, but some people prefer one over the other. 

I personally have had muscular and ligament problems during both my pregnancies, and also during the first year post birth. I have persistent groin pain which started in my first pregnancy but then never really went away. I did physio after baby number 1, for this plus for a sore lower back and general strengthening, and it eventually improved (although never went away 100%), but then it came back with full force in pregnancy 2.

In the last trimester of my second pregnancy it got so bad that some days I could barely walk. So I decided to go and see an osteopath. I was a little skeptical, but after a few weeks I saw great improvement, and even had some days where I was virtually pain free! Unfortunately now post birth I’m still struggling with it. My midwife referred me to a physiotherapist who I saw for about 3.5 months to try get it under control. And I’m back to the osteo now as well, for the groin pain and also for a very sore, stiff neck and sore shoulders/back/lower back. Having babies sure is a strain on the body!

Osteopathy definition

A system of complementary medicine involving the treatment of medical disorders through the manipulation and massage of the skeleton and musculature. (Google definition)

Osteopaths use a variety of very gentle techniques including massage-like techniques, articulation and mobilisation of joints. (Barrington Osteo)

Physiotherapy definition

The treatment of disease, injury, or deformity by physical methods such as massage, heat treatment, and exercise rather than by drugs or surgery. (Google definition)

Physiotherapy aims to improve your function if it has been impaired by injury, illness or wear and tear. (Sports Med).

So what does this mean?

Both forms of treatment essentially have the same outcome; to treat injury of the muscular system. But they just go about it slightly differently. Physiotherapy is more about strengthening exercises to build strength in areas of weakness or injury. It relies on you actually having active involvement, and going away to do regular exercises prescribed by the physiotherapist.

Osteopathy is more about gentle manipulation of muscles and the skeletal system, and is closer to a massage.

When I go to osteo I lie on a massage table and the osteopath gently manipulates my muscles and joints. It can be very gentle, and sometimes it feels like she isn’t doing anything at all, but that’s not the case! In contrast when I go to physio, the physiotherapist assesses my range of motion and stability (osteo actually do this too), and then provides exercises to target, stretch and strengthen problem areas. Both also involve some massage sometimes as well.

Osteo looks at the whole body and how it is connected; one sore area might actually be caused by some other part of the body. It gently manipulates the problem areas to release them. And then physio provides exercises to help strengthen the muscles and ligaments and prevent further damage or injury. So this is why for me I feel like they complement each other. This won’t always be the case of course, there will be some clear instances where one is better over the other.

Osteo can treat headaches, back and neck pain, pelvic pain, joint pain, muscle aches, occupational and repetitive strain injuries, sport injuries and pains experienced by pregnant and nursing mothers. Obviously its the latter that we’re interested in! And of course physio can also treat these things as well. So it’s really a personal decision which you feel most comfortable with, but you might find a combination of the two also works well, depending what your ailment is. If you’re unsure which method to try, perhaps start with one and see what they recommend. Alternatively, depending on the issue, you could first see a proper massage therapist who should be able to tell you which option they think would benefit you the most.

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