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

A question I am often asked is ‘what is the difference between an osteopath, a chiropractor and a physiotherapist and who would be the best person for me to see?’ Here is my attempt at a simple answer which I hope makes sense, but if there is anything you are not sure about please feel free to contact me for more information.

osteopath chiropractor physiotherapist

Osteopath, Chiropractor, Physiotherapist?


I have had to make some generalisations here so let me apologise to all of the therapists who read this and say ‘but that’s not what I do!’ This summary is aimed at helping people understand a bit more about how we work so post your comments if I have missed something fundamental about the way you practice, as anything that increases understanding can only be a good thing.

The first thing to point out is that anyone using the title osteopath, chiropractor or physiotherapist is a highly-trained healthcare professional that has undergone 3 – 5 years of training and must be registered with the appropriate regulatory authority i.e. General Osteopathic Council, General 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 structural, cranial, manipulative 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 include the use of x-rays, CT or MRI scans as well as other diagnostic tests to rule out disease. They treat the bones, muscles and joints using a range of techniques, with an emphasis on manipulation of the spine to resolve any problems identified.

Physiotherapists treat problems associated with muscles, joints, ligaments and tendons including the spine and are known for their provision of post-surgical/fracture rehabilitation. 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.

Similarities and Differences
As you can see osteopaths, chiropractors and physiotherapists are highly trained in their unique disciplines which are based on different philosophies and principles. Despite these differences there are many similarities in the respective treatment approaches 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 the patient getting better.

Does this help you to decide who you should go and see? Probably not and in my experience ‘word of mouth’ is still the best recommendation that a therapist could have. Most people will go to the person they have heard good things about, usually from friends and family members and this is often enough for them to make an appointment. When you are in your appointment you should feel comfortable enough to 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 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.

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2 Comments

  1. philippa

    Excellant, nicely clear and followable, brill

    • Thanks for the kind words Philippa it’s nice to know when something is appreciated 🙂

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