CPD

How is a Chiropractor Different From an Osteopath?

Dr. Carl Clarkson
Dr. Carl Clarkson July 12, 2022
Chiropractor working with a female client

Chiropractic and Osteopathy are very similar interventions, and most people don’t know what the difference is. But, as a healthcare professional, you might find yourself in a position where you need to make a suitable referral to a Chiropractor or an Osteopath. In this article, we go over the differences between the two professions, and provide you with the information you need to make an informed decision. 

So, how is a Chiropractor different from an Osteopath? Chiropractors primarily focus on bones and joints, specifically the spinal area, whereas Osteopaths consider the body as a whole and use muscle manipulation. Both interventions are used to treat a similar range of conditions, but use different techniques to achieve their clients’ desired results.

Read on to learn more about Chiropractic and Osteopathy, and which intervention is most appropriate for your client.

How are Chiropractors and Osteopaths Different?

Whilst very similar in both theory and practise, there is one key difference between Chiropractors and Osteopaths; Chiropractors treat bone ailments, with a primary focus on the spine, whilst Osteopaths primarily treat muscle ailments. However, that is not to say that Chiropractors won’t step slightly into Osteopathy to aid their treatments, and visa-versa.

Chiropractic focuses on realigning to the body, with a large emphasis on the spine, whereas Osteopathy focuses on the whole body, specifically bodily structural integrity, via muscle manipulation.

Both interventions typically view the body as being a self-sufficient system that is capable of healing itself and, as such, Chiropractors and Osteopaths use the similar methods to diagnose issues:

  • Observation
  • Touch
  • Palpation

Similarly, they both use the following techniques to treat clients and encourage recovery once a diagnosis has been made:

  • Stretching stiff joints or muscle
  • High velocity “thrusts” to the spine and joints

What Does a Chiropractor Do?

Chiropractic is considered Complementary and Alternative Medicine in the UK, and is the practice of relieving aches and pains in the bones and joints primarily, although Chiropractic can also be used to aid muscular pain to some extent. The treatment can be used to treat a wide range of problems, from back pain to neck pain, shoulder pain, and pain in relation to conditions such as Osteoarthritis. To do this, Chiropractors employ a range of techniques such as:

  • Spinal manipulation
  • Sharp, short “thrusts”
  • Gradually moving joints into different positions
  • Pulling and stretching

What Does an Osteopath Do?

Osteopathy is based on the key belief that a person’s wellbeing is dependent on the health of their bones, muscles, ligaments, and connective tissues. As such, Osteopaths use a wide range of techniques with the aim of reducing pain and tension, and encouraging healing. Commonly, the treatment is used to help lower back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, Arthritis, sports injuries and more. Similar to Chiropractors, Osteopaths employ some of the following techniques to do this:

  • Massage
  • Stretching
  • Articulation and positioning
  • “Thrusting” movements

Does Your Client Need a Chiropractor or an Osteopath?

If you think that your client could benefit from a Chiropractic or Osteopathy referral, but aren’t quite such which to recommend, we have outlined the benefits of each below, and when they are commonly used.

Chiropractic is used to manage conditions that relate to the musculoskeletal system, however is best used to help relieve pain in joint and bone conditions, such as back, neck, shoulder, and elbow pain, and for conditions such as Osteoarthritis. This usually comes with benefits including:

  • Relieving pain and tension
  • Reduces reliance on painkillers
  • Improving range of motion
  • Helps to improve posture
  • Potential to reduce Osteoarthritis symptoms
  • Potential to ease headache symptoms
  • Potential to reduce Scoliosis symptoms
  • Potential to improve athletic performance

Meanwhile, Osteopathy is typically used in the management of lower back pain, uncomplicated neck pain, shoulder pain, Arthritis, lower body joint pains, sports injuries, and in pains associated with occupations and pregnancy. Using Osteopathy for such conditions usually comes with benefits including:

  • Improving mobility
  • Reducing pain and muscular tension
  • Improving circulation and blood supply to the tissues
  • Helping the body to recover

Do Chiropractic or Osteopathy Compliment Other Healthcare Services?

Both Chiropractic and Osteopathy are Complementary and Alternative Medicines (CAM), meaning that they work well alongside other interventions, including both primary healthcare and other services such as those discussed below. 

Acupuncture & Dry Needling

Acupuncture and Dry Needling is another CAM treatment that has strong potential to relieve pain and reduce muscular tension, similar to both Chiropractic and Osteopathy. There are claims that using these treatments in conjunction with each other can help to maximise results. What’s more, one study concluded that combining Acupuncture and Osteopathy is feasible in a GP setting. 

Learn more about how Acupuncture and Osteopathy complement each other in our recent blog.

Massage

Some Massage Therapies use similar techniques to those used in Osteopathy and Chiropractic (i.e. stretching and pulling), therefore it is reasonable to conclude that these interventions would work well together. However, it is important to recognise that, in cases of severe pain, Osteopaths and Chiropractors typically use less pressure than a Massage Therapist.

Clinical Yoga

Whilst there are over 100 different types of yoga, general principles include adopting postures to stretch, flex, and strengthen the muscles and joints, as well as properly aligning the body, all of which can help to reduce pain and muscle tension. As such, many within the industry recommend yoga alongside Chiropractic in particular as both a preventative measure, and to help manage conditions if and when pain does arise. 

Final Thoughts

Chiropractic and Osteopathy are very similar, however the key difference is that Chiropractic is primarily used to treat bones and joints, whereas Osteopathy focuses on the body as a whole, but with a primary focus on the body’s structural integrity. That being said, both interventions are commonly used to treat many of the same conditions, just using slightly different techniques. 

If you’re a healthcare professional thinking of making Chiropractic or Osteopathic referrals, first consider the desired outcome, for example pain relief, and whether it affects the bones and joints specifically, or a wider area of the body. It would be recommended to refer to a Chiropractor for bone and joint issues, but an Osteopath for wider issues.

But, don’t forget about the wide range of other CAM treatments that you, as a healthcare professional, could integrate into your practice. At Breeze Academy, we offer CPD courses for healthcare professionals in areas such as Acupuncture and Dry Needling, Sports Massage Therapy, and Clinical Yoga; all of which complement both Chiropractic and Osteopathy, and can help to relieve pain and tension. 

Take a look at our courses online today, and kick start your journey into offering new and exciting complimentary services to your clients. 

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