What is the difference between an osteopath, a physiotherapist and a chiropractor?

[To be noted: this is a very prompt summary, a very basic description kept simple for everyone. If you require more information about each of the profession you should discuss with their professional body or a therapist of each branch themselves.]

Any of theses professions have to answer this emblematic, empirical question: what is the difference between an osteopath, a physiotherapist and a chiropractor?

A point to be raised to start: they are not “ALL THE SAME”. They are all highly regulated primary health care manual therapies and the three different names are not just synonyms, as it can be heard sometimes…

The main common point of all these therapies is that they treat people affected by injury, illness or disability through movement. They aim for health, symptoms relief and improving their patient’s life. So they are all in the same team really.

The osteopath examine and treat their patient as a whole, they will work of various restrictions and posture issues using various range of approaches and techniques (individual to each practitioner); considering not just muscles and joints but also blood supply, nerves, fascia, organs etc. If an imbalance is picked up, the osteopath will aim to trace back the source responsible for the “end up product” imbalance; exercises might be given and advice on posture and habits will be provided too. The osteopath works with different principles including that the body is its own medicine chest (more description on this page).

The physiotherapist requires a very high patient compliance and involvement, as in addition to do manual therapy they will use exercise rehabilitation. If an imbalance or a restriction is picked up, the physio will treat through movement and exercise rehab program in addition to manual therapy to overcome this imbalance and adjust the imbalance. Obviously physiotherapy is a highly recommended and almost compulsory therapy for post-surgery, post injury/trauma to retrain injured and atrophied muscles.

The chiropractor focuses on the diagnosis and manipulative treatment (mainly of the spine) of neuromusculoskeletal disorders and their effects on the function of the nervous system and general health. They can give exercises too. Their aim is to re-establish spinal mobility via manipulations (techniques that will make you ‘crack’). They can usually recommend regular treatment (weekly) over a certain period of time.

To summarise, they are 3 different approaches with the same aim of re-establishing health. People will prefer the rush and boost of a chiropractic manipulation, when others will prefer a more gentle holistic approach that an osteopath can offer. And others will prefer their physio sessions.

The most important point is that you pick a practitioner highly qualified and that knows what they are doing. Any of those therapy can do a great job as long as the practitioner knows what they are doing and what is appropriate for their patients.

As an osteopath, I work alongside physiotherapists and chiropractors and used cross referral when necessary and I truly believe this is a very important to acknowledge as a practitioner, in order to offer the best care and management to our patients.



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