Osteopaths, physiotherapists, and chiropractors are all involved in the treatment of people with musculoskeletal problems. However, while they may share some skills and training, the treatments they offer differ in their approach and implementation. What unites Osteopaths, Physiotherapists, and Chiropractors is the belief that restrictions and imbalances in the body can lead to discomfort and pain and that manual treatment – such as assessing and treating the spine – can alleviate these symptoms.
- Techniques of Treatment
What about treatment? Do their techniques overlap? Their overall aims can be similar: to treat symptoms and prevent a recurrence. But the goals of osteopathy are far broader than this, aiming to restore health by treating the underlying cause rather than just the symptoms. Additionally, an osteopath may use low level laser therapy to treat their patients.
Chiropractic manipulations are suitable for relieving pressure on nerves – part of why Osteopaths say they’re not Chiropractors – while Physiotherapy emphasizes physical training and individualized exercise programs to improve strength and general fitness.
Osteopathic training allows students to work with the vertebral subluxation complex technique. The technique manipulates bones, muscles, connective tissues, and other soft tissues, helping patients return to normal function without surgery.
- Duration of Treatment
Chiropractic treatments, like most osteopathic treatments, usually are shorter than physiotherapy treatments. Because osteopaths, physiotherapists, and chiropractors are experts at different levels, the duration of treatment differs.
Chiropractors are physicians educated mainly in bone adjustments that they undertake by manipulation or adjustments of the bones. An osteopath will evaluate the patient’s overall health and analyze the condition by touching and looking at the throat, nose, ears, skin, muscles, and joints before choosing the appropriate manipulation.
Osteopaths will then perform holistic treatment, which may last for an average of 45 minutes. This type of treatment is short-lived compared to osteopathy. Osteopaths may also use low-intensity laser treatment for quicker healing. However, all three modalities may use this technology to treat their patients.
Chiropractors’ treatments tend to be brief by comparison with those of osteopaths and physiotherapists.
- Frequency of Treatment
Osteopaths typically treat symptoms with a one-off appointment. They believe symptoms occur due to misalignment of body structures and focus on realigning those structures to relieve symptoms. In contrast, physio and chiro often seek to find the source of symptoms, as they expect signs to have some underlying cause. A typical example is back pain, which may have a physiological reason that needs addressing rather than just being a symptom itself.
Osteopaths tend to offer more frequent sessions than physiotherapists, some offering weekly appointments for the first few weeks. Physiotherapists tend to recommend once-weekly sessions for between three and six weeks. Chiropractors often suggest one or two sessions per week for between two and four weeks. However, the number of treatments will vary from patient to patient, and your specialist will decide within the initial assessment.
- Body Areas of Specialization
While osteopathy focuses on muscles and bones, physiotherapy focuses more on the soft tissues, muscular system, peripheral nerves, and posture. Chiropractic concentrates mainly on spinal manipulation to treat pain. Research has shown that osteopathic treatment may be effective for patients with fibromyalgia and acute upper-respiratory-tract infections.
A chiropractor will diagnose and treat disorders of the musculoskeletal system, especially the spine. Treatment tends to be more hands-on than is osteopathy, with manipulation techniques including manual adjustment, low-level laser therapy, electro-acupuncture therapy, traction, and massage.
Meanwhile, physiotherapists apply treatment to promote improvement in mobility and function. Treatment includes exercise regimes, assessments, and treatments to alleviate pain. Osteopaths are holistic medical practitioners who concentrate on the whole body rather than individual areas. Osteopaths use treatments that manipulate the tissue along with other therapies.
- Diagnostic Procedures
Chiropractors use x-rays, MRIs, stress tests, and muscle response testing, while osteopaths use palpation techniques on the body to improve posture, breathing, and sleeping habits. Each of these three types of health professionals has varying strategies for diagnosis. However, osteopaths may refer their patients for the diagnostic procedure if necessary.
A physiotherapist will typically improve movement patterns and range of motion, and flexibility through physical therapy measures.
You should consider seeing one of these three types of practitioners if you are experiencing any musculoskeletal pain. Osteopaths, physiotherapists, and chiropractors all have very different treatments. Osteopaths specialize in the musculoskeletal system of the body, with a holistic approach to treatment. Physiotherapists have more of an orthopedic focus, working on muscles and joints. Chiropractors treat the spine, which is something that both physiotherapists and osteopaths also do. Each type of therapist works with different problems of the body.