Chiropactors, Osteopaths or Physiotherapists

What is the difference between Chiropractors, Osteopaths and Physiotherapists?

A frequently asked question by our patients at Solihull Chiropractic Clinic is, 'What is the difference between a chiropractor, osteopath and physiotherapist?'

All of the team of chiropractors at Solihull Chiropractic Clinic have the greatest respect for the osteopathic and physiotherapy professions. In many ways we are trying to achieve the same goals with our patients but we use slightly different techniques.

Our advice when choosing a chiropractor, osteopath or physiotherapist would briefly be as follows:

  • Make sure that the chiropractor, osteopath or physiotherapist has studied a three, four or five year full-time degree.
  • Enquire whether they hold membership of their national association (e.g. British Chiropractic Association, British Osteopathic association, Chartered Society of Physiotherapists).
  • Use a chiropractor, osteopath or physiotherapist who has been recommended by a friend or GP.
  • Don't persist with treatment if the chiropractic, osteopathy or physiotherapy given does not suit you.

The differences between Chiropractors, Osteopaths and Physiotherapists

At Solihull Chiropractic Clinic we are essentially focused on the mechanical problems of our bodies; in particular, the mechanical problems of the spine. Treatments may include manipulation, mobilisation, soft tissue treatment (such as massage) and exercises.

  • Chiropractors are trained to take and read x-rays which may be appropriate in cases such as trauma or pathology.
  • Osteopaths are not trained in radiography or radiology, their therapeutic approach has more similarities to that of a chiropractor than differences. If an Osteopath requires further imaging they can easily request x-rays or scans at an imaging centre.
  • Physiotherapy is a very broad-based training. Physiotherapists have to work with a diverse spectrum of conditions, ranging from breathing problems to post operative rehabilitation. Therefore, if you choose a physiotherapist for your back pain, we would suggest you choose a physiotherapist with a special interest in the field of back pain or spinal therapy. Traditionally, physiotherapists are less 'hands on' with their treatment of back pain, using more exercise-based approaches.

What does the Chiropractor network say?

The following is a more in-depth look (taken from The Chiropractor Network) at the differences between chiropractors and osteopaths:

A Chiropractor and an Osteopath work with a patient's entire body. The truth is that, while Chiropractic and Osteopathy are in many ways similar, they are historically independent schools of thought and their approach to patient treatment is at times different.

A Chiropractor is a highly trained practitioner who is interested in how a person's body works, but views the workings of a body primarily through the spinal and muscular systems. Usually a Chiropractor focuses on pain relief and injury recovery. He or she will use spine and joint adjustments (manipulation), massage and rehabilitative exercise to help a patient heal as well as working with the patient in other areas of his life (primarily diet and exercise programs).

Some chiropractors specialise in treating specific musculoskeletal problems or sports injuries, or they may combine chiropractic with manipulation of the extremities (arms and legs), physiotherapy, nutrition, or exercises to increase spinal strength or improve overall health. Some also use other complementary and alternative methods as a part of a holistic treatment approach (e.g. dry needling, acupuncture, SOT). However, chiropractors do not prescribe drugs; they believe this to be the field of conventional medicine, and that their role is to pursue drug-free alternative treatments. However, in the UK, the British Chiropractic Association is considering applying for limited prescribing rights. Depending on the country in which the Chiropractic school is located, some train in minor surgery. When indicated, the doctor of chiropractic consults with, co-manages, or refers to other health care providers.

An Osteopath is again, a highly trained practitioner who is interested in a person's entire body. A more 'holistic' approach. An Osteopath does not focus only on the muscular and spinal system. He or she will examine a person's entire body to determine more 'cryptic' possible causes for the patient's problem. The osteopath is usually visited in a patient's effort to combat pain or injury, but osteopaths have been known to treat other problems as well. Treatment from an osteopath can involve massage, physical therapy and body adjustments (manipulation). Osteopathy is a theory of disease and method of cure founded on the assumption that deformation of some part of the skeleton and consequent interference with the adjacent nerves and blood-vessels are the cause of most diseases. (Reference taken form the Oxford English Dictionary). Practitioners of osteopathy, called osteopaths (or osteopathic physicians as know in the US), have a holistic approach; osteopathic philosophy requires addressing the whole person in diagnosis, prevention and treatment of illness, disease and injury, using manual and physical therapies (Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine, or OMM).

Both Chiropractors and Osteopaths use treatments that involve the moving of a person's body outside its usual range of motion. This can sometimes result in a joint 'release' or 'joint crack'. A Chiropractor will do this by swiftly moving a joint out of its usual range of motion (for a brief moment) to restore better function. An Osteopath will usually employ a more passive and repetitive technique that stretch the muscles surrounding a joint, again to improve function. It should be noted that a chiropractor can easily use gentle mobilisation techniques when indicated just as an osteopath can use more forceful manipulation when indicated.

Both Chiropractors and Osteopaths use physical movements to treat pain and injuries. A Chiropractor will move the patient during a visit, placing his or her limbs in various positions in an effort to decrease joint and muscle pain. Both Chiropractors and Osteopaths will teach a variety of poses and postural improvements to a patient so that he or she can continue with the recovery at home.

Chiropractic therapy has close origins to Osteopathy. Osteopathy was founded by Dr. Andrew Taylor Still in 1872 and Chiropractic care was founded by Daniel David Palmer, a student of Dr. Still in 1895. Training to be a chiropractor or Osteopath requires very good A-level grades. There are many institutions of learning in the UK such as: The British College of Osteopathy in London, The British School of Osteopathy in London, The Anglo-European College of Chiropractic in Bournemouth and The Welsh Institute for Chiropractic at Glamorgan University.

The major difference between an Osteopath and a Chiropractor is that while the Chiropractor is primarily focused on the spine, joints and the muscles, an Osteopath is also concerned with the rest of the body. This 'holistic' approach might for example treat patients with respiratory problems, digestive problems or any other number of problems that might not seem related to the spine or joints.

In Summary:

  • Chiropractors and osteopaths represent different schools of physical therapy but are similar in that they offer, amongst other things, manipulation of joints and massage of muscles.
  • Both chiropractors and osteopaths undertake several years of in-depth training, but they use different approaches to manipulation.
  • There are no comparative studies to suggest chiropractors are better than osteopaths or that osteopaths are better than chiropractors. It really comes down to the personal choice of individuals.
  • The best thing to do would be to ask the opinion of other people who've consulted a chiropractor or osteopath in your local area, and then try the one with the best references.
  • Both Chiropractors and Osteopaths should give you excellent care.

The definition of Physiotherapy

The Chartered Society of Physiotherapist's definition of physiotherapy is as follows:

Physiotherapy is a healthcare profession that works with people to identify and maximise their ability to move and function. Functional movement is a key part of what it means to be healthy. This means that physiotherapy plays a key role in enabling people to improve their health, wellbeing and quality of life.

Physiotherapists use their professional knowledge and practical skills, together with thinking skills and skills for interaction in their day-to-day practice. This combination of knowledge and skills means that practitioners can work in partnership with the individual and other people involved with that person.

Physiotherapists recognise that physical, psychological, social and environmental factors can limit movement and function. They use their knowledge and skills to identify what is limiting an individual's movement and performance, and to help individuals decide how to address their needs.

Physiotherapy's values means that practice is person-centered, ethical and effective. The evidence-base underpinning physiotherapy is constantly evolving as practitioners develop new knowledge and understanding through critical reflection, evaluation and research. This evolving evidence base supports the use and development of physiotherapy's scope of practice.

The Royal Charter gives physiotherapy a broad scope of practice that includes manual therapy, exercise and movement, electrotherapy and other physical approaches. Physiotherapy is an autonomous profession. This means that physiotherapists can accept referrals for assessment from a range of sources: from an individual themselves (self-referral) or from other people involved with that individual. Physiotherapy can offer a range of interventions, services and advice to improve individuals' health and wellbeing.

Physiotherapy works to maximise an individual's movement capability at three different levels. It can help maintain and improve the body's movement and function by offering treatment when someone is acutely ill in hospital. It can also improve someone's function and independence (at home, at work) by offering rehabilitation and advice. It can also enhance their performance and participation (in their community and wider society) by offering advice and by challenging the environmental or social barriers that limit participation.

Physiotherapy's strong clinical leadership and adaptable workforce means that it can deliver high quality innovative services that are accessible, effective and efficient. Physiotherapy maintains strong links between clinical and academic settings. This means that the profession responds to developments in practice, education or research, and actively ensures its workforce continues to be fit for purpose.

If you have any queries please don't hesitate to get in touch, you can leave a message on our contact page, phone us on 0121 744 6627 or Email us at

At Solihull Chiropractic Clinic you will always find a warm and friendly welcome. Our professional approach, gentle treatment and the great care we take of our patients have helped us to become a centre for excellence.

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