What is the difference between osteopaths, chiropractors and physiotherapists?

Common questionThis must be one of the most frequently asked questions asked by patients at a first appointment or, when considering making an initial appointment. In order to give you an unbiased opinion of the differences, listed below is the information provided by each professional body:


Source: General Osteopathic Council (www.osteopathy.org.uk)

Definition: “Osteopathy is a system of diagnosis and treatment for a wide range of medical conditions. It works with the structure and function of the body, and is based on the principle that the well-being of an individual depends on the skeleton, ligaments and connective tissues functioning smoothly together. ”

Scope of practice: “To an osteopath, for your body to work well, its structure must also work well. So osteopaths work to restore your body to a state of balance, where possible without the use of drugs or surgery. Osteopaths use touch, physical manipulation, stretching and massage to increase the mobility of joints, to relieve tension, to enhance the blood and nerve supply to tissues, and to help your body’s own healing mechanisms. They may also provide advice on posture and exercise to aid recovery, promote health and prevent symptoms recurring.”


Source: General Chiropractic Council (www.gcc-uk.org)

Definition: “Chiropractic is a primary health-care profession that specialises in the diagnosis, treatment and overall management of conditions that are due to problems with the joints, ligaments, tendons and nerves, especially related to the spine.”

Scope of practice: “Chiropractic treatment mainly involves safe, often gentle, specific spinal manipulation to free the joints in the spine or other areas of the body that are not moving properly. Apart from manipulation, chiropractors may use a variety of techniques including heat, ice, ultrasound, exercise and acupuncture as well as advice about posture and lifestyle.
“Although chiropractors are best known for treating back and neck pain, which they do very well, patients also consult chiropractors regarding a range of other, related conditions.”


Source: Chartered Society of Physiotherapists (CSP) (www.csp.org.uk)

Definition: “Physiotherapy helps restore movement and function to as near normal as possible when someone is affected by injury, illness or by developmental or other disability.”

Scope of practice: “Physiotherapists (“physios”) work in a wide variety of health settings such as: intensive care, mental illness, stroke recovery, occupational health and care of the elderly. They combine their knowledge, skills and approach to improve a broad range of physical problems associated with the different ‘systems’ of the body. In particular, they treat: neuromuscular (brain and nervous system), musculoskeletal (soft tissues, joints and bones), cardiovascular and respiratory systems (heart and lungs and associated physiology).”
“Contemporary physiotherapy practice may have developed a great deal from its early roots but the four broad ‘pillars’ granted to the profession by Royal Charter in 1920 still have validity today: massage, exercise and movement, electrotherapy and kindred methods of treatment.”

In conclusion, it is noticeable that there are small differences between the three professions. If you are still unsure of which course of therapy is best suited to your needs, do not feel shy to contact several different practitioners and ask questions! As practitioners, our job is to give you as much information as is necessary, in order for you to be able to make an informed decision.

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