What is the difference between a chiropractor and osteopath?

11th October 2011 - What is the difference between a chiropractor and osteopath?

On the surface the two professions may seem quite similar, both purporting to treat musculoskeletal disorders using non-invasive methods.

If you were to ask a chiropractor and an osteopath what conditions they can treat, and which they see most often, the answer would almost always be the same. The order of prevalence would be something like lower back pain, neck pain, headaches, trapped nerves, other joint and muscle problems.

Certainly this is something that is seen in the clinical setting with lots of Sure Health patients having been to ostoepaths previously. However, seeing patients for similar complaints does not necessarily mean the two professions are identical. Acupuncture and physiotherapy, for example, are also used for similar injuries, yet both rely on very different methods of treatment.

To understand how and why methods used in chiropractic and osteopathy differ, it is useful to start at the beginning. When one traces osteopathy back to its roots, it is revealed that the “founding philosophy” of osteopathy is that all the body’s ailments were a consequence of disrupted blood flow, whereas chiropractic was based upon the theory that disruptions to the nervous system were the cause of disease.

Fortunately, with the inception of evidence based medicine, the understanding of how all body systems are involved in disease has increased and very few chiropractors or osteopaths rely on these out-dated, narrow minded views.

Having said that, the initial beliefs behind both professions have influenced the way each has developed. In modern practice osteopaths tend to work more with muscles and massage, while chiropractors tend to place more emphasis on joints and manipulation. This is a very broad stereotype, however, with huge amounts of scope in both professions. The reality of it is that some chiropractors will utilise more massage, and some osteopaths will use manipulation.

In cases where osteopaths do use manipulation, it is not of the specific nature of chiropractic manipulation, with multiple segments of the spine being affected at once. This is an undesirable characteristic, and means results may not be as forthcoming. Another consequence of this is that more force is needed to perform the adjustment, which can often leave patients feeling a little bit achy.

Clearly, these differences will vary enormously between clinician, and a good osteopath is often just as likely to get you better as a chiropractor.

The training of osteopaths and chiropractors is broadly similar, covering detailed anatomy and physiology and others. Both degrees are university based Masters’ level and have research and practice based elements. Chiropractors also qualify with a diploma in roentgenology, allowing them to take and read x-rays and mri scans. Osteopathy is also available as a part time degree over 5 years.

Although there are more osteopaths in the UK than chiropractors, there are more research studies published by and specific to chiropractors. This is a result of the so called bone and joint decade of the 1990s where a concerted overhaul of neuromusculoskeletal evidence took place.

In summary, differences between chiropractors and osteopaths are becoming less obvious, but each very definitely has its own place in musculoskeletal medicine.