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Osteopath vs Chiropractor

There are many parallels between osteopathic medicine and chiropractic. Yet, there are some significant differences between the two. Not sure which is best for you, keep reading to understand the difference.

Osteopath vs Chiropractor - Definitions

Osteopaths “focus on how the skeleton, joints, muscles, nerves, circulation, connective tissue, and internal organs function as a holistic unit,” according to Osteopathy Australia. For example, if you go to an osteopath for a sore knee, they may also examine your ankle, pelvis, and back. They may enquire about your medical history and other factors related to your injury.

Chiropractic according to the Australian Chiropractors Association “is a drug and surgery free modality of treatment concerned with the diagnosis, management and prevention of mechanical disorders of the musculoskeletal system (spine)”.

Chiropractors focus on the detection and correction of abnormal spinal function. They believe that spinal dysfunction causes more peripheral issues in the body.  It is the belief that correcting this will solve the problem.

Osteopath Vs Chiropractor - Similarities

They both offer manual therapy interventions and believe the body can heal itself. If someone presents with shoulder pain, both would include the spine in treatment. Chiropractors focus on the spine, with spinal manipulation serving as their primary tool. Spinal manipulation is also used by osteopaths as part of their treatment approach.

Chiropractors and osteopaths both view the body as a whole. Aspects of the consultation look similar, both are likely to use manipulative treatments. Both are well-versed in biomechanics and ergonomics, as well as exercise rehabilitation. There are however some differences.

osteopath vs chiropractor, Osteopath vs Chiropractor

Osteopath Vs Chiropractor - Differences

A distinction is chiropractors are likely to use spinal adjustments to treat injury. Osteopaths are likely to address the muscles through stretching and deep tissue massage. This is along with spinal adjustments.

Chiropractic is almost always associated with manipulations of the spine and neck. Chiropractic care focuses on spinal manipulation on a regular basis. It’s more about releasing spinal joints than it is about releasing muscles. Soft tissue treatment training is often not given an emphasis in chiropractic care.

Chiropractic is also best known for spinal manipulation, known as “clicking” joints. Many YouTube and TikTok sensations have arisen as a result of the loud pop during treatments, which is both addictive and polarising. Sometimes the emphasis of treatment becomes overly focused on the “pop.”

Osteopathy is sometimes referred to as a “alternative” medicine. Osteopaths take a holistic approach, and their education is heavily based on medical sciences. This can make that statement seem strange, but more on that later. Furthermore, osteopaths face a lack of awareness; a common question is “what is an osteopath?”. Check out more here:  What is osteo?

Osteopath vs Chiropractor - Education

Regardless of their philosophical backgrounds, both chiropractors and osteopaths must complete in-depth training. This includes a variety of medical fields, including anatomy, biology, and diagnostic imaging.

They both train in Australia for approximately 4.5-5 years. Completing either a double Bachelor Degree in science and Osteopathy/Chiropractic. Or a science undergraduate degree with a master’s degree in Osteopathy or Chiropractic.

Chiropractic education heavily focuses on the diagnosis of joint misalignments of the spine. Other disorders are thought to be a result of these misalignments effecting nerves, muscles, and organs. The problem is commonly addressed through treatment in the form of spinal adjustments.

Osteopathy education emphasises the structure of the body and its link to function. The foundations of osteopathy highlight that parts of the body become restricted. These restrictions mean the rest of the body must adapt. Stretching, articulating and joint mobilisation are some of the techniques used for this.

Osteopath Vs Chiropractor - Which one do I need?

What is the skill set of each of these healthcare professionals? Which do I one do I need between an osteopath and a chiropractor?

This answer depends on what you’re looking for:

If in pain, my suggestion is to treat the symptoms in the acute phase and reduce pain. Long-term is about empowering the patient to maintain their own health.

Both osteopaths and chiropractors treat joint pain. Though I believe there are subtle differences. Chiropractic care can concentrate on regular adjustments to “keep you healthy”.

This focuses on regular treatment sometimes for financial gain. It can involve scheduling appointments in advance. This is a bane of chiropractic and brings down those who have the patient’s best interest. This also falls into the trap of treating symptoms rather than causes over time.

Where both osteopathy and chiropractic fall down is claims to “treat” conditions such as:

  • infantile colic
  • bed wetting
  • asthma
  • ADHD
  • autistic spectrum disorders
  • ear infections
  • high blood pressure

There is no evidence to support these claims.

The notion that we can accurately measure, diagnose and treat these conditions is extravagant. None of this was part of our training.

Good chiropractors and osteopaths are able to help people suffering from

  • Lower back pain
  • Neck pain
  • Headaches
  • Shoulder Pain
  • Arthritis
  • Nerve Pain
  • Postural Strains
  • Foot and Ankle Pain

Where the difference lies is in the osteopath’s slightly more holistic approach.

Foot and ankle pain will benefit from examining how the big toe and calf function. Also, how your foot and ankle work together, and what effect this has on your pelvis. As per their training chiropractors may concentrate on the pelvis and spine.

Final Words

You want to see someone who empowers you to look after your own body. Someone who teaches you great pain-management strategies.

You want to avoid anyone who makes false promises of a cure and takes too much credit for natural recovery. 

Good osteopaths and chiropractors will work within an evidence-based paradigm.

Remember osteopathy and chiropractic are not treatments. Rather the person who administers the treatment is the treatment. The person determines the outcome.

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