A typical scenario…

“My back hurts darling.” George complained as he switched off the BBC news
“You really ought to go and see a chiropractor,” said Cathy, his wife of 15 years.
“I think I’d be better off with one of those, what are they called again…osteos….?”
“Osteopaths, George. Yes, Mildred sees that girl Denise down the road” sighed Cathy.
“Yes but what is the difference between her, a chiropractor or a physiotherapist?”

A question on many people’s lips as alternative medicine is becoming increasingly popular. With more and more positive research coming through on the efficacy of osteopathy, people are now becoming more familiar with the word, and how to say it.

So what is the difference?

All practitioners should steer away from this topic becoming some sort of alternative medicine boxing match, and try to take a more supportive approach. All complementary therapists have a place in healthcare, and actually a combination of physiotherapy, chiropractic care and osteopathy can have a beneficial effect on the health of people.

The difference between the 3 different forms of therapy can be obvious, or subtle, depending on what practitioner you speak to. Some chiropractors will practice similarly to osteopaths, whereas some will practice the stereotype which is: shorter treatment times, higher prices, little to no soft tissue techniques (science based massage) and more clicking. Chiropractors have been known to use more equipment and there tends to be an emphasis on “putting a joint back into place”. Again, this is only some chiropractors and none of those things are necessarily an incorrect way to practice. Osteopaths usually see people for longer, charge less, work more holistically (eg if you are a golfer and have tight hips we may work on them at some point to give your painful shoulder an easier time during your swing), use less fancy equipment, don’t solely use adjustments (the clicking) and have a different set of philosophies and principles. Osteopaths won’t tell you they are changing the position of a joint by clicking it, we usually are focusing on increasing movement as well as relaxing muscles and resetting neurological firing, to enable you to have decreased pain and this is to be maintained with exercises. Physiotherapists have more of an emphasis on exercise prescription (advice) than any other healthcare profession but will also practice manual therapy (techniques requiring touch). Some physiotherapists provide no manual therapy at all. However, this is all variable. Some physiotherapists use adjustments (the clicking), some do not. It entirely depends on who you see. And moreover, a busy, rushed NHS physiotherapist will usually be very different to a private one who has given themselves 30 minutes with each patient. Both physiotherapists and chiropractors are more likely to use machines in a consultation, for example a machine to message muscular activity and also X rays/MRI and ultrasound machines. However, it is definitely worth mentioning once again that these differences are all becoming similarities the more time goes on.


The difference between osteopaths, chiropractors and physiotherapists – in layman’s terms is that physiotherapists may be more focused on exercises prescription, chiropractic care more on alignment and adjustments correcting structure and osteopaths on a more holistic, all inclusive approach. However, there are chiropractors who may be more holistic than others, and osteopaths who may be all about adjustments. Therefore, it is best to visit a practitioner first, or have a conversation about their particular ethos before making an informed decision on whether they are the best therapist for you.

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