Osteopaths, Physiotherapists, Chiropractors – what is the difference?

This is a very commonly asked question, and it can be a bit complicated, so bear with me and I’ll answer it as simply as I can.

We all fall under the umbrella of manual therapists, which means we use hands-on (manual) techniques and exercise rehabilitation to help treat and prevent pain. The specific ways in which we do that differ slightly, for example:

Osteopaths use physical manipulation, which tends to encompass a combination of muscle work including massage, stretching, and exercise rehab, alongside joint mobilisations, and spinal manipulations that can involve clicking and cracking. The intention is to mobilise joints, release muscle tension and spasms and improve circulation to promote healing. We also help improve posture, and release restrictions, in order to increase circulation, nerve supply and fluid drainage to help the body to maintain optimum health. I would say the main focus of Osteopathic treatment uses all of the treatment modalities with equal importance. It is very much a combined approach.

Physiotherapists (Physio) tend to focus on education and advice, with tailored movements, exercise and physical activity instruction. Their manual therapy is usually more massage-based. They often work within the NHS where a more patient-directed rehabilitation approach is encouraged. This can include lots of prescribed exercise and pain management techniques. A physiotherapist working in private practice will often apply a more hands-on approach tending to use massage and mobilising treatments with less joint manipulations alongside extensive home rehabilitation plans. Some Physio’s take an additional qualification to enable them to use joint manipulation ie clicking and cracking, but this is less common.

Chiropractors approach is more specifically related to the spine, they treat other areas of the body as well, but they tend to use spinal manipulations to treat the problematic area, by trying to improve the nerve supply to whichever joint or muscle they are trying to affect. They often use more short, sharp, thrusting movements to achieve these spinal manipulations. Their belief is based around releasing spinal restrictions to improve the neural supply to nerves that exit at different spinal levels to improve joint and muscle function in related areas of the body.

To summarise, all three professions have some crossover with their approach, but originate from slightly different perspectives, for example chiropractors focus more, although not exclusively, on spinal manipulation ie clicking and cracking. Physiotherapists tend to do more patient led exercise and rehabilitation routines with some stretching and massage work. Osteopaths tend towards a combined approach, using both of these treatment types with the focus on the manual work using joint/ spinal manipulations alongside massage, muscle release and mobilisation techniques with some additional exercise advice too.

Because all three professions are manual therapy and exercise rehab based approaches there can be some similarities. The main difference often lies in the specific practitioner and it is important to find someone that is right for you. If you would like any more information about how we work here and would like to come in for a FREE 10 minute chat to find out if we are the right fit for you, or book a consultation please visit the website www.so-osteopathsyarm.co.uk or call the clinic on 07919163053.