People often ask what’s the difference between an chiropractor and an osteopath. It’s often very hard to receive an unbiased answer, as the person providing the answer is usually a Chiropractor or an Osteopath, so their answer is invariably skewed towards their profession.


Furthermore, in reality, in terms of the experience a patient receives when visiting an osteopath or chiropractor, the answer to this question may not be clear cut, not only is one pair of hands often different to another but in the years following their basic four to five years of training osteopaths and chiropractors may undertake the same or different post-graduate courses in various methodologies from specific forms of manipulation to acupuncture which they incorporate into the practice, or they may work along side other therapists (e.g. therapists) in an integrated manner, resulting in the overall package of care being different or very similar depending on the individual clinicians / practices being compared.


As an osteopath myself I inevitably know more about the ins and outs of the osteopathic profession than chiropractic. However having undertaken various post-graduate courses and read several books relating to chiropractic, and whilst in no way considering myself or being allowed (by law) to call myself  a chiropractic, I have a great deal of respect for the chiropractic profession; so here is my best attempt at an unbiased answer which applies to the raw professions, ignoring any additional non osteopathic / chiropractic post-graduate courses a practitioner in private practice may have taken (apologies in advance to any chiropractors for any inaccuracies).


Overview to Osteopathy Vs Chiropractic methods

Osteopathy and chiropractic share a common origin from late 19th Century America. The goal of both professions is to use hands on manipulation of the body as opposed to medication to relieve and prevent pain and disorders emanating from the muscles and joints of the body, particularly the spine.


Philosophy behind both Chiropractic and Osteopathy

Chiropractic traditionally has a strong emphasis on achieving optimum joint alignment, particularly of the joints in the spine in order to maintain optimum health. Chiropractors place strong emphasis on the exact position of any misalignments and the direction in which correction needs to take place and are trained to use x-rays to aid with this process (although in practice they may use other methods in order to avoid unnecessary x-ray exposure).


Osteopaths do recognise the potential for misalignments and joints that may be “stuck” but they do not receive the same training in x-ray analysis as chiropractors. This is partly because of the way osteopathy has evolved to place great emphasis on body palpation as a way of diagnosing and identifying problems, partly due to concerns over unnecessary x-ray radiation exposure and partly because Osteopaths tend to place a lot of importance on blood flow and the health and function of the soft tissues (muscles and fascia) in addition to the joints.

Treatment techniques and differences between Osteopaths and Chiropractors

Most osteopathic treatments include a fair amount of soft tissue work (massage and stretching) as well as joint articulation or “clicking” (High Velocity Thrust, HVT) to loosen or re-align stiff joints, and re-set nerve reflexes.


An average chiropractic treatment will focus on re-aligning the spine and pelvis using manipulation, but exact method of manipulation will depend on which chiropractic method being used, for example Diversified, Gonstead, Activator, Drop Table, or  Mc Timoney Chiropractic techniques. Diversified is taught to all chiropractors at undergraduate level, for the neck and middle back the techniques are very similar to the HVT techniques learnt by osteopaths, in the lower back osteopaths are taught a method known as the “lumbar role” where by the main thrust is delivered through the Osteopaths forearm on the patients pelvis; whereas in (diversified) chiropractic the thrust is delivered by direct contact with the chiropractors hand on the segment being manipulated (for example a “mamilliary or spinous push / pull” technique)


Appointment length

Treatment times tend to be a little longer for osteopathy, whereas chiropractic treatments tend to be a little shorter but more frequent.


Appointment cost

Costs are similar between both professions.


By Robert Shanks
Spine Plus Clinics


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