Osteopathy, Physiotherapy and Chiropractic - What's the difference?

November 25, 2016

A common question asked by patients is ‘what’s the difference between you and a Physio?’ or ‘are Osteopaths the same as physiotherapists/chiropractors?’


I’m sure this is something that is asked to Physiotherapists and Chiropractors, just as much as it’s asked to Osteopaths. The simple answer is that in the past the boundaries between the professions were more distinct, but now there is a lot of crossover between them. This is mostly down to the professions now sharing more treatment techniques, as well as approaches to healthcare in general.




Osteopathy is a system of diagnosis and treatment, with the aim of promoting health and recovery by encouraging the skeleton, muscles, ligaments and connective tissues to function smoothly together.


Treatment involves a range of techniques such as massage, manipulation, mobilisation/articulation and stretching to improve things such as;

  • Joint mobility

  • Muscle tension

  • Blood supply to tissues


Treatment is also accompanied with advice and exercises that compliment the treatment plan created by your Osteopath, that will help promote health and aid recovery.




Physiotherapists work combine knowledge and skills to treat different systems of the body such as;

  • Neuromuscular (How the brain and nerves connect to muscles)

  • Musculoskeletal (Muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones)

  • Cardiovascular (Heart, arteries, veins)

  • Respiratory (Lungs)


They help by encouraging the body to function and move as well as possible after injury, illness, disability or surgery by using a broad range of treatment techniques.




Chiropractors, just like Physiotherapists and Osteopaths, work by treating the musculoskeletal system but differ in approach. The basis of treatment is on manipulation/joint adjustment to improve the function of the neuro-musculo-skeletal system. Other forms of treatment are also used, with soft tissue work becoming increasingly popular.



So are they really that different?


The crossover between the professions varies from practitioner to practitioner. Some Osteopaths may treat more like a Chiropractor, while some may treat more like a physiotherapist. However, the treatment approaches used by each practitioner will also depend hugely on the patient in front of them, as some techniques will become more or less appropriate.


All three forms of healthcare are statutorily regulated, with all practitioners being trained to degree level and required to complete a set number of hours of professional development each year to remain up to date with current research.


Now I know I’m a little biased, and would say that you should definitely go and see an Osteopath, but the main thing is to find a therapist that you are happy with.  This depends on a whole host of things but it’s ultimately your decision to find a practitioner you trust, get on with and who has a treatment style that works best for you and gets results.

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