What is the difference between an Osteopath, Physiotherapist & Chiropractor?

The question always pops up. So yesterday I took some time to jot down how I differentiate.

Before I start I want to caveat this post by saying I personally always suggest people go in search of a recommendation or referral over a title. Wouldn’t you rather see a therapist who was considerate and caring enough for someone to rave about them, over someone who has read certain books / passed certain exams? Just the way I look at things.

There are probably more similarities that differences. All 3 of these health care practitioners reduce pain and improve function to optimise your overall health – they just go about it in (sometimes) slightly different ways.

I am going to share the stereotype of each practice. You will get some Osteopaths who practice like Chiropractors, some Physiotherapists who have learnt Osteopathic techniques etc.

I will start with Physiotherapists because I think out of the 3 they stand most independently.

Think rehabilitation and injury prevention. Physios often work to assist the recovery of a common injury or routine surgery. Most often their treatments are exercise based and their focus is bringing back movement and function to an injured part of the body. Expect that a good physio session may well put you through your paces and it might actually seem more like a strong personal training session!

You are much more likely to find Physiotherapists working in a hospital setting too – from wards where patients may be in quite a critical condition to out patient settings.

I feel the cross over between Chiropractors and Osteopaths is greater and both are usually set up in Private practice over the NHS.

Chiropractors focus heavily on the intimate relationship between the nervous system and spine.

They teach that any biomechanical or structural derangement of the spine will affect the nervous system. With that restore the structural integrity of the spine, will reduce pressure on the sensitive neurological tissues and consequently improve the health of the individual.

I would expect treatments to include a fair amount of manual adjustment / manipulation of the spine.

Where as one of the main focus’ for Osteopaths is that the rule of the artery is supreme and that good circulation and blood supply is of highest priority.

Treatments are likely to include more mobilisation, massage and soft tissue work – aiming to release and relieve the pressure caused by acute or chronic injuries. With the belief that encouraging circulation and flow will support / enhance physiologic function. I feel like Osteopaths are usually more holistic – taking on board maybe stress levels and nutrition.

Chiropractic studies teach that the body seeks balance and self-repair, and that overall wellness can be achieved without drugs or surgery. Which is really quite similar to what is taught in Osteopathic studies – the body is one unit and it is its own medicine chest.

The above is really saying both practitioners are there to assist, not just fix you. Therefore when both Chiropractors and Osteopaths treat they are aiming to unblock the barriers that are preventing your body from healing its self.

Make sure you consider this…What a great therapist can do in 1 hour won’t make up for bad habits / lazy rehab throughout the rest of the week (167 hours).

Chiropractors work around the belief that proper structure is essential for proper function. And this is almost identical to the belief Osteopaths have that structure and function are reciprocally interrelated.

The adjustments and manual work that both of these therapists do to align or correct your posture are done so that your body is able to function properly – or optimally.

To recap here are my note style answers:

  • Physiotherapists – skilled rehab. Re-injury prevention. Exercise prescription / advice.
  • Chiropractors – spinal alignment and focus on the nervous system. Manipulation and manual adjustment.
  • Osteopaths – massage and mobilisation. Blood flow and circulation. Holistic approach.

I hope that helps or you find it slightly interesting. Ping me a email if you have any other questions: jessica.lambert@hotmail.com.

Jess x

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