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

This is one of the most frequently asked questions of an Osteopath and it can seem quite confusing to patients sometimes. This is because in simple terms you will probably find more similarities than differences between all. We are all manual therapists, which means that we use our hands to carry out techniques to treat the body as opposed to prescribing medicines.

Osteopaths and Chiropractors tend to treat similar conditions with similar techniques, especially in Britain, where the two evolved along parallel but converging paths, there is a significant overlap between the disciplines.

The length of treatment typically varies between osteopaths and chiropractors. In general, chiropractic appointments tend to be shorter as the practitioner focuses on adjusting the spine (this does not mean to say that chiropractors don’t adjust areas other than the spine). However, chiropractors tend also to see patients more frequently, as the muscles connected to a misaligned vertebra can pull the bone back out of place, and it may take a few adjustments for the spine to settle into its proper alignment.

Osteopaths tend to spend more time with a patient per visit, as their focus is somewhat broader and their treatment techniques are more varied. Osteopathic treatments also tend to be spaced out over a longer period of time.

Having described these differences, it is important to remember that both chiropractors and osteopaths address the same structures and use principally similar manipulative techniques. There are a huge number of variations between individual practitioners of both disciplines, from what they focus on to how they apply treatment. Each chiropractor and each osteopath is an individual with his or her own unique style of therapist, and it is important for a patient to find a practice that fits his or her unique needs, regardless of the label.

In relation to Physiotherapy and Osteopathy the following useful analysis has been supplied by one osteopath who has studied both: "osteopathy is a more 'hands-on' approach to healthcare, in contrast physiotherapy concentrates more on rehabilitation and as such the patient is required to do a lot more of the work" e.g. exercise rehabilitation. Physiotherapy is especially good following surgery, whereas osteopathy, is a lot better at backs, joints and acute injuries... Osteopathy is great for getting people out of pain, whereas physiotherapy is great for managing and exercising chronic conditions.