Some osteopaths include exercises as part of their treatment approach. The Institute of Osteopathy has recently taken this up a notch suggesting that osteopaths are well suited to help someone get started with an exercise program, teach the exercises correctly and progress the exercise program. We know that misleading claims in osteopathy are widespread. Is this yet another attempt by the osteopathic profession to get people to pay for their treatments without considering what’s actually best for the patient? Or do osteopaths really have the expertise to provide an exercise program?
Osteopaths are primarily manual therapists and it’s actually physiotherapists who are the professionals most associated with using exercises as part of their treatment approach. We therefore compared the undergraduate training for osteopaths and physiotherapists to better understand which profession is best placed to provide an exercise program.
Osteopathy and Exercise
There are relatively few institutions that provide undergraduate programmes for osteopaths. A complete list is available here. We reviewed the syllabus for three of the organisations on the list:
- European School of Osteopathy: https://www.eso.ac.uk/undergraduate-study/
- The British School of Osteopathy: http://www.bso.ac.uk/train-to-be-an-osteopath/osteopathy-course-information/m.ost-degree-programme/
- The London School of Osteopathy: http://lso.ac.uk/?page_id=23
None of the undergraduate programmes above provide any training on exercise. This immediately brings into question whether an osteopath should provide an exercise program. They haven’t been trained in exercise or exercise programming so it doesn’t seem like they are well placed to do this.
Physiotherapy and Exercise
There are a large number of Universities that provide undergraduate programmes for physiotherapists. As a comparison to the three organisations providing osteopathy training above, we reviewed the syllabus for three programmes for physiotherapists:
- University of Birmingham: http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/undergraduate/courses/sportex/physiotherapy.aspx#CourseDetailsTab – This includes specific training on “Physical Activity and Exercise”.
- University of Salford: http://www.salford.ac.uk/ug-courses/physiotherapy – This includes specific training on “Principles of Exercise Therapy” and “Exercise Across the Lifespan”
- University of Bradford: http://www.bradford.ac.uk/study/courses/info/physiotherapy-bsc-3-years – This includes specific training on “Health Wellbeing and Exercise”
The Right Professional to Provide an Exercise Program
Of the undergraduate training programmes reviewed, none of those for osteopathy provide any specific training on exercise. This isn’t actually surprising as osteopaths are primarily manual therapists not exercise specialists. They therefore receive most of their training in manual therapy rather than exercise. In contrast to osteopathy, all of the undergraduate training programmes for physiotherapy reviewed above included specific modules on exercise. This suggests that physiotherapists receive more direct training in exercise programming and are therefore better placed than osteopaths to provide an exercise program for their patients.
It’s actually quite concerning that the Institute of Osteopathy have suggested that its members can provide exercise programming and technique advice when osteopaths do not receive training in this area. An osteopath providing an exercise program is rather like an electrical engineer designing a bridge. They might have more idea of the general engineering principles involved than a member of the public but there’s a very real risk that the bridge might fall down! In the same way that bridge building should be left to civil engineers, exercise programming and technique should be left to professionals who specialise in this area and that is physiotherapists. Physiotherapy is available on the NHS via a referral from a GP. Alternatively, private physiotherapy is available and it’s easy to search for a suitable physio on the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy website.
Regular exercise is, in general, a very good idea. If you need help with an exercise program please make sure you see someone who is suitably qualified in this field. That would be a physiotherapist and NOT an osteopath!