Osteopath or Chiropractor?

By far it is the most common and frequent question that I am asked in practice and it is almost always difficult to explain in a single sentence… may I shed some light:

Both osteopaths and chiropractors embrace the whole body principle in a holistic manner of practice and treatment, embracing self-healing and regarding the body as a self-contained, fully interdependent system. However, there is a subtle difference between osteopaths and chiropractors with regards to their philosophy, and therefore their practice.
For example, whilst technique and treatment methods for addressing a patient’s symptom may often be similar, the osteopathic approach tends to focuses on from the principle that ‘the artery is supreme’ – that disease or dis–ease is a result of a lack of or an obstruction of blood flow; whereas chiropractors tend to subscribe to the philosophy of continual uninterrupted flow of the nervous system, and any interference in this flow leads to disease or pain.

A word on history…

Osteopathy was founded by Andrew Taylor Still in America in 1874. Around twenty years or so later, it was speculated that one of Still’s former students, Daniel David Palmer, had formulated and founded the Chiropractic practice.

The practical differences

In theory and in practice osteopaths concentrate on treating in accordance with the cardiovascular system. This is one of the main governing rules of osteopathy. Great consideration of the circulatory system is taken into account when an osteopath is assessing and treating a patient. “Structure governs function” is another governing rule which proposes that if there is a problem in the structure of the body for example, uneven leg length or muscle tear or a dropped foot arch; this will disturb and inhibit the natural function of the body and its systems.

Chiropractors however treat in correspondence with neurological system and seek to influence it. The emphasis is placed on the vertebral alignment as the primary mechanism to alleviate pain and tension in the body. The spine is made of many individual vertebrae bones protecting the spinal cord and sending messages via nerves at the spinal segments. So with everyday stresses the vertebrae can shift and move, interfering with nerves and tissues such that any misalignment of the vertebrae will evidently cause pain and irritation displayed throughout the body.

Both professions seek to ultimately alleviate aches and pain. However, osteopaths also treat a broader range of functional problems, such as disorders of the respiratory or digestive systems.

Both osteopaths and chiropractors treat more than just the spinal and the muscular system. By working with the cardiovascular system and nervous system respectively, they are able to influence all of the bodies systems making them capable of alleviating the symptoms of a number of diagnosed medical conditions such as asthma, stress, digestive disorders, and many more.
Often patient experiences with osteopaths and chiropractors will be very similar yet quite unique. Whilst osteopaths and chiropractors both use visual inspection and palpation, assessing their patient by way of touch/feel, a few differences exist. When diagnosing patients, chiropractors rely more on imaging such as X-rays and blood tests; osteopaths on the other hand tend to place more emphasis on the physical examination and will generally refer patients on for more diagnostic procedures if needed. In addition, osteopaths for the most part do not offer or prescribe medication as part of the holistic care.

The type of treatment a patient will receive from an osteopath can vary. Osteopaths utilise a number of techniques in order to induce the body’s inherent healing system. These techniques include gentle stretching, soft tissue, joint articulation and manipulation. Chiropractors tend to use a manipulative technique similar to what osteopaths use called “adjustment” techniques. This aims to remove any obstructions and focuses on the realignment of the integral spine.

Final thoughts…

It is important in all this back and forth of osteopathy or/vs. chiropractic to take into consideration that both professions aim to tackle the same issues and use very similar mobilizing techniques. Remember though that each chiropractor and each osteopath is an individual with his or her own unique skill set and mode of practice – understanding this is important as it is best for patients to find a practice that fits their own individual needs. Ultimately the way to understand fully the difference and similarities between the two professions is to try each one and come to your own conclusion. I would be interested to hear your views too, so feel free to leave your comments or send me a line