April 24, 2018

What’s the difference between Osteopaths and Chiropractors

When you’re in pain the most difficult thing to decide is: who do I go to see? There are SO MANY therapies, which one do I choose?

Let’s start with the musculoskeletal therapies: what are the differences between chiropractors and osteopaths?

Even at the very beginning, the difference started in the founding philosophy and defines how the therapists work today.

In brief, here are the key differences, explained more fully in the text below.

Philosophy Artery is key – Treatment focuses to remove any barrier to the flow of fluids – blood, lymph, articular, cerebrospinal Nerves are central. Treatment focuses on housing of nervous system – the spine
Diagnosis Palpation, orthopaedic tests and referral if necessary Similar, and they can and often do scan on-site to assist diagnosis
Experience of Treatment Some manipulation at times. Mostly articulation of joints, movement of muscle and other soft tissues, and cranial osteopathy focuses on the lower spine and skull Often the focus of treatment is spinal manipulation – “pops” and “clicks”
Duration 30-60 mins 5-30 mins
Number of sessions 3-6 with reviews every 6-12 months 6-12 in a short space of time, with maintenance treatments recommended at moderate to high frequency
Governing BodyInstitute of OsteopathyBritish Chiropractic Association

Osteopaths believe “the artery” (aka blood) was key and will work to remove any barriers to flow and function, using the muscles, joints and fluid dynamics to achieve this. The chiropractors believe the most important thing were the nerves, – so chiropractic focuses on the housing of the nervous system – the spine.

When diagnosing a patient, osteopaths will use orthopaedic tests, palpation and will refer you if they believe it is necessary for you to have a scan. Chiropractors, on the other hand, may use scans themselves to be able to get a better visualisation on the different issues.

When visiting an osteopath, you expect around 30-45min of one to one treatment while chiropractors can vary, some of them being around 5 minutes! Chiropractors are also known to suggest a more regimented treatment schedule, often involving a number of treatments over a period of weeks or months. Osteopaths seem to gauge the responses over a shorter period, allowing the patient to react to the treatment and honouring the fact that everyone is different and reacts differently.

Both professions have become recognised for “cracks” and “pops” during treatment. In osteopathy, there may be some manipulation but that may not be the focus of the session. And certain branches of osteopathy choose to not manipulate at all and you may just feel the light placement of their hands on your head, low back, ribcage and feet (cranial osteopaths), or treatment around your abdomen (visceral osteopaths). When observing a “traditional” chiropractic treatment, there will be a high amount of manipulation (“clicks” or “pops”).

These therapies, although appearing different in certain aspects, really differ in how the chosen practitioner approaches a problem. Both professions are fully insured and regulated. For any particular problem, it may be a case of speaking to two or three different practitioners so that you can find the one you best “click” with (no pun intended!). And remember that at the end of the day, they all have your best interest at heart and will help you in any way they can.

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