Chiropractic and Osteopathy: What's the Difference?
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Chiropractic and Osteopathy: What's the Difference?

Chiropractic and Osteopathy are both forms of alternative medicine. If you are having trouble with muscle, bone or joint pain, both are forms of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) which could help.

In terms of treatments, they are similar. The major difference between an osteopath and a chiropractor is while chiropractors focus mainly on the spine and joints, an osteopath is also concerned with the rest of the body. It is important to distinguish between the two to ensure you are receiving treatment which is appropriate for you.

What is a Chiropractor?

Chiropractors focus on the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mechanical disorders of the musculoskeletal system, focusing particularly on the spine, as they believe that these disorders affect general health via the nervous system.

When should I consult a chiropractor?

Musculoskeletal conditions include lower back pain, neck or shoulder pain, slipped discs and any joint pain. Some chiropractors will deal with a wider range of issues including asthma, allergies, period pains and mental health conditions such as depression.


Chiropractors use a range of techniques, mainly manual therapy. These techniques involves the use of the hands applying force to the muscles, bones and joints. They focus primarily on manipulation of the spine, other joints and soft tissue. Manual therapy techniques may include:

  • Short, sharp thrusts applied to the spine (intended to remove joint restrictions and improve the range of movement)
  • Slowly moving joints through a range of different positions (aiming to reduce tension within a joint)
  • Pulling or stretching muscles in a certain direction (intended to strengthen and improve the range of movement in the muscle)

Chiropractors may also offer advice on general lifestyle, diet and exercise as well as rehabilitation programmes. Rehabilitation programmes will provide exercises that can be carried out in your own time. These exercises will help you recover from your health condition and reduce chances of it recurring in the future. Some chiropractors may also offer acupuncture, a treatment where fine needles are inserted into certain points of the body to stimulate nerve and muscle tissue.

What is an Osteopath?

Osteopathy is used to treat conditions which affect the bones, muscles and joints.

When should I consult an Osteopath?

The majority of people who consult an osteopath do so for help with back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain or other problems related to muscles and joints in the legs and arms. Some osteopaths also treat a wider range of health conditions, including asthma, digestive problems and period pain.


An osteopath aims to reinstate the normal function and stability of the joints to help the body heal itself. Like chiropractors, they also use manual therapy to treat your body in a variety of ways, using a combination of gentle and forceful techniques. These include:

  • Massage - to release and relax muscles
  • Stretching stiff joints
  • Articulation of joints - joints are moved through their natural range of motion
  • High-velocity thrusts - short, sharp movements to the spine, which normally produce a clicking noise similar to cracking your knuckles.

It is believed that these techniques reduce pain, improve movement and encourage blood flow - allowing the body to heal faster. Osteopathy is not usually painful, however if you are having treatment for a painful or inflamed injury you may experience some discomfort. They should also offer rehabilitation programmes which will include exercises for you to carry out in your own time.

Your first session

Typically, your first chiropractic or osteopathy session will involve an assessment of your general health and medical history, plus a physical examination. This can last up to an hour. Further consultations will usually last 30-40 minutes. The practitioner will advise you a course of treatment which is suitable for you.

It is always best to speak to the practitioner before you book an appointment to discuss what problems you are experiencing. This way they will tell you how they can help and whether they are the best people to see with your particular injury. Good luck!

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