The difference between an osteopath, chiropractor and a physiotherapist is….

Choosing a therapist is like a maze

Osteopath, Chiropractor, Physiotherapist?

When people find out that I am Osteopath the next question is usually ‘what is the difference between an osteopath, a chiropractor and a physiotherapist and which one would be the best for me to see?’ Here is my attempt at a simple answer to that question which I hope makes sense. If there is anything you are not sure about please feel free to contact me for more information.

Choosing a therapist is like a maze

I have made some generalisations so I apologise to all of the therapists who read this and say ‘that’s not what I do!’ This summary is aimed at helping people understand a bit more about why we do what we do as therapists and I have deliberately kept it at a ‘high level’. Feel free to post comments if I have missed something fundamental about the way you practice, as anything that increases understanding can only be a good thing.

Probably the most important point to make is that anyone using the title osteopath, chiropractor or physiotherapist is a highly-trained healthcare professional that has studied for 3 – 5 years and must be registered with the appropriate regulatory authority i.e. General Osteopathic CouncilGeneral Chiropractic Council or Health and Care Professions Council.

What they do

Osteopathy is a system of diagnosis and treatment based on the view that when the body is balanced and working well, it will function with the minimum of wear and tear. Osteopaths use a detailed case history and physical examination to identify musculoskeletal problems within your body’s structure and function. The treatment approach can involve a combination of manipulative, structural, cranial and soft tissue techniques which are effective for a wide range of muscular, nerve and joint problems.

Like osteopaths, chiropractors take a case history and perform an examination to diagnose problems involving your muscles, joints and the nervous system. A chiropractic exam is more likely to involve the use of MRI, x-rays or CT scans as well as other diagnostic tests to identify any problems. They treat muscles, joints, and bones using a range of techniques, with an emphasis on manipulation of the spine to resolve any problems identified.

Physiotherapists treat problems associated with ligaments, muscles, tendons, and joints and are known for their provision of post-surgical/fracture rehabilitation. As with the other health professionals, they will take a detailed history and use orthopaedic tests to diagnose problems and will use mobilisation techniques, manipulation, stretching and exercises to treat musculoskeletal conditions.

source Similarities and Differences

Although equally well trained, osteopaths, chiropractors, and physiotherapists treatment approaches are based on different principles and philosophies. Despite those differences, there are many similarities with each profession using orthopaedic and neurological tests to examine and diagnose the problems presented by a patient. They may use different techniques to resolve the problems found, but the end result is always to improve health and to see you getting better.

Who should you see?

Does any of this help you to decide the best type of therapist to see? Probably not! In my experience ‘word of mouth’ is still the most popular way most people find a therapist usually from a good review from friends or family members. The next best thing is to use the internet to identify some therapists you like the sound of and call them. It is a good sign if the person you speak to sounds knowledgeable with a clear understanding of your proof what is happening. If the therapist is able to explain their thoughts in a clear and understandable way that is even better. Whenever there is a lot of ‘jargon’ with no clear explanation of what might be happening, feel free to walk away and find someone else that you feel comfortable with. Always ask lots of questions and as long as you are happy with the answers and the therapist’s treatment approach you have made the right choice.

The next best thing is to search the internet to identify some therapists that you like the sound of and then call them.  It is a good sign if the therapist sounds knowledgeable with a clear understanding of your problem and can provide an explanation of how they could help you. If they respond with a lot of ‘jargon’ and technical terms that leave you confused, feel free to find someone else as they either don’t understand what is going on or have communication difficulties. Always ask lots of questions and as long as you are happy with the answers and the therapist’s treatment approach you have made the right choice.

Choosing a practitioner is really as complicated and simple as that, with one approach to a treatment being very similar to another for resolving musculoskeletal problems.

I chose to practice osteopathy because it suits my philosophy and the way that I like to work, but it is really about the practitioner and whether their approach to treating you works for you.

If you have been looking for a therapist I hope that this helps and if there is any more advice that I can give you, please get in touch.

So what exactly is osteopathy?

An image of Andrew Taylor Still and a colleague discussing anatomy.
An image of Andrew Taylor Still - The founder of Osteopathy
Andrew Taylor Still – The founder of Osteopathy

I was inspired to write this blog after trying to explain what Osteopathy is at a networking meeting recently. The nature of networking meetings mean that you have a short time to explain who you are and what you do while making it sound interesting otherwise it ends up being a very short conversation. I tell people “I am an Osteopath and I ‘fix’ people for a living” which usually gets their attention then I tell them what I really do.

Osteopathy is a very difficult subject to summarise in the confines of a blog post, but here goes….

Osteopathy was developed by an American called Andrew Taylor Still in 1874. He worked as a frontier doctor during the American Civil War and became disillusioned with the practice of medicine at that time as it seemed to be killing as many people as it cured!!  After witnessing the death of his children from meningitis, and being unable to help them, he looked for an alternative, more effective approach to healthcare.

Osteopathy came from Still’s understanding of the musculoskeletal system, the importance of the blood supply, natural immunity and the body’s ability to heal itself. By taking these different factors into account he developed an effective treatment approach involving joint manipulation (‘cracking’), joint mobilisation (movement), massage (soft tissue techniques) and cranial techniques (influencing the skull and nervous system). Other osteopathic tools include muscle energy techniques, balanced ligamentous tension, visceral osteopathy, myofascial techniques and trigger points (all covered in more detail here).

 The General Osteopathic Council (UK regulator of osteopathy) describes Osteopathy as:

“a system of diagnosis and treatment for a wide range of medical conditions. It works with the structure and function of the body, and is based on the principle that the well-being of an individual depends on the skeleton, muscles, ligaments and connective tissues functioning smoothly together.”

This basically means that it is not just for ‘bad backs’, but can be used to treat a wide range of problems including headaches, neck, shoulder and back pain, hip pain, osteoarthritis, sports injuries, hypermobility syndrome, motor neurone disease etc. etc. I could go on, but you can hopefully see that Osteopathy is a very versatile treatment approach.

The ability to treat such a diverse range of problems is because Osteopathy treats the person and not the symptoms. If you see an osteopath because of a knee injury they will also consider the knee, ankle, hip and low back, then take into account old injuries, your fitness levels, age and many other factors before proposing a treatment plan. Because everyone is different, taking this approach ensures the treatment is always aimed towards getting the best outcome for you as an individual.

 While Osteopathy is a very versatile treatment approach it cannot resolve every problem and a referral to a GP or other health professional will always take place if that is the route to the most effective form of treatment.

 As I am sure that you can tell, this is not an exhaustive description of Osteopathy and its history, but I hope that you now have a better understanding of what it is and how much an osteopath could do to help you.

If you still have any questions on Osteopathy please feel free to contact me as I am always happy to help. You can also find out more about what I do on my website.

An image of Andrew Taylor Still and a colleague discussing anatomy.
follow link Andrew Taylor Still and a colleague discussing anatomy

 AT Still’s autobiography is a great insight into the man, the world that he lived in and why he developed osteopathy :

If you still want to know more about Osteopathy I would suggest you look at watch Osteopathy – Models for Diagnosis, Treatment & Practice by Parsons and Marcer ( ISBN-13: 978-0443073953) which is an excellent, easy to understand reference book for all things osteopathic.

http://osteodoc.com/index.htm is a good on-line reference if you don’t like those book things 😉 and it also has links to many more on-line resources