Top 5 Differences between an Osteopath and Chiropractor

An osteopath is a healthcare professional who specialises in osteopathic medicine, a type of alternative medicine that emphasises physical treatment of the body's muscles, joints and bones. Osteopaths use a holistic approach to health care, meaning they consider the whole body rather than focusing solely on the area of injury or illness. They are trained to diagnose and treat a variety of health conditions, with a particular focus on the musculoskeletal system, which includes the nerves, muscles, and bones. Their treatments often involve hands-on techniques such as stretching, massaging, and articulating the body to promote healing and overall well-being. In addition to treating specific ailments, osteopaths also aim to improve the body's overall health and resilience by enhancing its natural self-healing mechanisms. They are regulated by the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC).

A chiropractor in the UK is a healthcare professional who specialises in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mechanical disorders of the musculoskeletal system, with a particular emphasis on the spine. They are regulated by the General Chiropractic Council (GCC) and must complete a four to five-year degree program. Chiropractors use a range of techniques to reduce pain, improve function, and increase mobility, including hands-on manipulation of the spine. They work in private practice and patients can self-refer for treatment. While they treat a range of conditions, they are perhaps best known for their work treating back and neck pain. Chiropractors also provide advice on exercise, diet, and lifestyle, and offer rehabilitation programmes to help prevent recurring injuries.

Let’s look at 5 key differences between osteopaths and chiropractors:

  1. X-rays: Chiropractors often use X-rays to look at the spine. This can help them inform the patient of “misalignments” or “subluxations”. Osteopaths have a different philosophy, wanting to minimise the use of X-rays due to the effects of radiation. They also do not so widely diagnose misalignments, and tend to look at functional deficits like stiffness, or weakness.

  2. Treatment Approach: Chiropractors and Osteopaths use manipulation, or high-velocity thrusts. Sometimes chiropractors call them high-velocity low amplitude thrusts. Chiropractors typically look for misalignment in joints and bones, but osteopaths look more for functional limitations. For example, a chiropractor who saw me diagnosed and treated me for a misaligned C1 vertebrae. Osteopaths are more likely to report that you are stiff in the neck, and instead mobilise the stiff parts of your neck to improve the neck functionally. Both use manipulation, but more osteopaths are gentle and tend to use less manipulation.

  3. Sessions: Chiropractic sessions tend to be quite short, usually less than 15 minutes. It is quite common to have a simple thrust, to “re-align” a joint or subluxation, and that’s the session finished. This means that often chiropractors will want to see you more regularly, and over a longer period of time. Chiropractors tend to want to see you for maintenance adjustments. Osteopaths tend to use the mantra “find it, fix it, leave it alone”. This refers to the ability to find a problem, fix a problem, and leave it alone (sending you on your way). Osteopaths do of course see some people for maintenance treatment as patients can find benefit from regular sessions, however this is generally not sold or encouraged to patients.

  4. NHS: Osteopaths are more commonly working in the NHS, but less so than physiotherapists. This is because osteopaths are classified as allied healthcare practitioners, and supported under the NHS framework. However, as the osteopathic profession is quite small, osteopathy is not widespread in the NHS. Chiropractors are not used in the NHS as far as I am aware, although there may be some historic any qualified provider contracts still in existence which may support the provision of chiropractic. At Surrey Physio we have over 10 osteopaths who work in the NHS.

    Barry Kleinberg, osteopath at Surrey Physio, working in the NHS as an FCP Lead

  5. Package of Care: Chiropractors tend to want to see you for a package of care, usually 10 or 20 sessions. This is often pre-sold to the patient. Not all chiropractors do this, but many do,. Osteopaths will often try to help improve your pain in the shortest possible time, wanted to get you in and out quickly, to free up a gap for another patient. As osteopaths tend to spend longer with patients, and chiropractors may see multiple patients at the same time, there is often a need to discharge patients quicker with osteopaths. Osteos also tend to encourage patients to exercise in-between sessions more frequently than chiropractors.

The reader should bare in mind that these points are not necessarily the same for every osteopath or chiropractor. For example, while chiropractors like to do more maintenance adjustments, sometimes osteopaths do too. It really does depend on the individual practitioner, and their own way of treating patients. The best thing you can do is to get a good recommendation.

If you are a patient, in pain suffering with acute or chronic pain, please call us to discuss your case further. Surrey Physio have an amazing team of therapists to help you recover from pain, but also to achieve top performance. Call us on 0208 685 6930 or click the link at the top to book online.)