osteopathy chiropractic physiotherapy what is the difference

Osteopathy, Chiropractic, Physiotherapy: What is the difference?

I am often asked, “What is the difference between osteopathy and chiropractic?”

Aside from stating the obvious with a bit of sarcasm and answering with, “the spelling”, I am going to attempt to clear up that old favourite;

“What is the difference between an osteopath and a chiropractor?”

In this writing I will also include physiotherapy. This is rarely compared to osteopathy or chiropractic but we all market ourselves in a similar manner.

To answer this question fairly, I am an osteopath after all; it is useful to refer to the definitions and general information published by some of the professional and governing bodies for each discipline.

What is osteopathy? What is an osteopath?

The Institute of Osteopathy describes osteopathy as:

…a method of assessing, treating and preventing a wide range of health problems. Osteopaths use a combination of movement, stretching, targeted deep tissue massage and manipulation of a person’s muscles and joints to improve function, relieve pain and aid recovery.

The body has the natural ability to maintain itself and, by helping this process, an osteopath can promote restoration of normal function. The principle of osteopathy is that the wellbeing of an individual relies on the way that bones, muscles, ligaments, connective tissue and internal structures work with each other.

An osteopath will take the time to understand their patient, and their unique combination of symptoms, medical history and lifestyle. This helps to make an accurate diagnosis of the causes of the pain or lack of function (rather than just addressing the site of the condition), and from that, to formulate a treatment plan that will achieve the best outcome.

Osteopaths frequently work alongside other health professionals, such as GPs, nurses and midwives as well as alternative medical practitioners. Osteopathy works well to complement other medical interventions including surgery and prescribed medication.

The National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) advises that GPs can safely refer patients to an osteopath for treatment. Osteopathy is available on the NHS in some areas of the UK.

What is chiropractic? What is a chiropractor?

Chiropractic is a health care profession that focuses on disorders of the musculoskeletal system and the nervous system, and the effects of these disorders on general health. Chiropractic care is used most often to treat neuromusculoskeletal complaints, including but not limited to back pain, neck pain, pain in the joints of the arms or legs, and headaches.

Doctors of Chiropractic – often referred to as chiropractors or chiropractic physicians – practice a drug-free, hands-on approach to health care that includes patient examination, diagnosis and treatment. Chiropractors have broad diagnostic skills and are also trained to recommend therapeutic and rehabilitative exercises, as well as to provide nutritional, dietary and lifestyle counselling.

What is Physiotherapy? What is a physiotherapist?

Physiotherapy helps restore movement and function when someone is affected by injury, illness or disability. Physiotherapists help people affected by injury, illness or disability through ovement and exercise, manual therapy, education and advice.

They maintain health for people of all ages, helping patients to manage pain and prevent disease.

The profession helps to encourage development and facilitate recovery, enabling people to stay in work while helping them to remain independent for as long as possible.


As you can see it is hard to differentiate between all three disciplines, however chiropractors, osteopaths and musculoskeletal physiotherapists intentions are all the same. We all aim to get you out of pain, healthier and functioning better.

The reality though is that all practitioners, even those in the same disciplines, can be very different.

Members of each discipline have the same or very similar degree training but then it all changes.

Everyone has their own interests and will follow very different CPD pathways. This can be challenging for the general public visiting a professional with certain expectations only to find they manage and treat in a completely different manner than their last professional.

Don’t let this put you off getting treatment.

You will find that it may not be the specific discipline that attracts you most but the practitioners themselves. You should trust and build a rapport with your practitioner and therefore you both have a good understanding of your whole presentation that will inevitably bring you the best outcome.

If you any questions about this article or if you are considering treatment but don’t know who to turn to please get in touch now.

07709 497555


Additional information about each profession is available through the following links: