What’s the difference between Osteopaths, Physiotherapists and Chiropractors?

What’s the difference between Osteopaths, Physiotherapists and Chiropractors?

Well apart from spelling and pronunciation what is the difference between Osteopaths, Physiotherapists and a Chiropractors?

The bottom line is that they are all under the bracket of manual therapists but have their own flare on treatment approaches and beliefs. The difficulty is often in the fact that each profession is diverse and it is difficult to even characterize what a “typical” Chiropractor, Physiotherapist or Osteopath is likely to do, so when I describe each profession please keep in mind that this is a description from my perspective and experience as there will be others with different beliefs.

The short answer is Osteopaths ordinarily look at the whole body as a functional unit and don’t just treat the area of pain/discomfort or disfunction but try to work out why it started in the first place to then help restore optimal function and structure. Chiropractors normally look at spinal health and alignment affecting the rest of the body to get the same results, Physiotherapist’ within the NHS don’t tend to have a diagnostic input as that is usually from the consultant. However, the ones that work in private practice typically focuses on the area of pain/discomfort or dysfunction and focus on rehab programs. Physiotherapists are probably most recognized due to their prevalence within the NHS for many years. All practitioners can work differently and have their own specialities despite their profession.

Osteopaths and Physiotherapist’ tend to work from 30 minute or 45 minute appointment times whereas Chiropractors often work from a shorter 30 – 5 minute appointment.

So let’s look a bit into the history of each profession. Chiropractic began in 1895 when its founder, Daniel David Palmer, “adjusted” the spine of a deaf janitor and claimed to recover his hearing. Palmer believed living organisms were fundamentally different from non-living entities and that health stems from the flow of a spiritual force. He claimed this flowed from the brain to the body through the spinal cord and peripheral nerves (nerves that have left the spinal cord). Although, Chiropractors now tend to focus on biomechanics. Even though some Chiropractors call themselves “Doctors” please know that they are not medically trained, and they do not prescribe medications. Whereas Osteopathic doctors in the U.S are physicians so they are medically trained and can prescribe medication, do surgery, run tests, and do everything else you would expect from a medical doctor. Osteopaths and physiotherapists in the UK are allied health professionals, meaning they are health professionals that are distinct from doctors, nurses and pharmacists. They share this title with other professions such as paramedics, dieticians and speech and language therapists.


Chiropractors believe the structure of the spine, and how well it functions, affects the musculoskeletal and neurological system. So they often look at the spine then how its having an affect outwards towards the peripheries or viscera. That’s why manipulations (the popping noises they make from joints) are a very popular treatment method in Chiropractic care. Although a lot of Chiropractors will use massage techniques to complement their treatments. Chiropractors believe that if the spine is in proper alignment, the body will be able to heal itself. However, I want you to know that the spine is a very strong and rigid structure and does not misalign or align easily, if that was the case we would all be in trouble due to our spines having the same consistency as a Jenga tower. This is why they may look at achieving these results through courses of treatments.

Chiropractors frequently work off much shorter treatment times than those of Osteopaths and Physiotherapists. Some Chiropractors will even perform 5 minute appointments. Although there are those that still perform longer treatments.


Well Osteopaths also evolved a profession of manipulation in order to heal, but they believed this can help with unblocking fluid dynamics such as blood, lymph and synovial fluid. Osteopathy and chiropractic had similar roots, but took very different paths, as we will discuss.

Osteopathy meaning 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, muscles, ligaments and connective tissues functioning smoothly together.

Osteopathy was founded in 1874 by Andrew Taylor Still, he was an American physician and surgeon who viewed the body as having the ability to recover from poor health when functioning successfully. He understood the relationship between structure and function. He saw the body as a highly complex machine which, like any other machine, requires proper alignment and motion for successful function. Since then Osteopathy has evolved remarkably by experience and research, this has lead to an internationally practiced profession, recognised by the World Health Organisation and other international bodies.

The World Health Organisation definition of Health states: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, not merely the absence of disease.” The Osteopathic practice supports that definition.

Treatment is usually gentle and should not be painful. Most Osteopaths use a combination of soft-tissue massage techniques, joint articulation and mobilisation, and if necessary, joint manipulation.  The bones, muscles and joints are collectively known as the musculo-skeletal system, and Osteopaths are primarily concerned with how this system can function at an optimal and pain-free level. Osteopaths usually have good working relationships with GP practices and hospitals and give advice on life-style, activities and exercises to complement their treatments.

How many session will you need? This is entirely dependent on the problem you have, and it is virtually impossible to say exactly how many treatments you will need. It could be just one treatment or it could be one treatment a week, for a few weeks.


Physiotherapy is mainly dedicated to the restoration of movement, impairment and disability. In 1917 during the First World War, nurses used machines that assisted with movement and a combination of massage techniques to treat injured soldiers to get them up and moving again. At that time, Physiotherapy was known as “mechanotherapy”. It was only in the late 1950 that Physiotherapy was practiced outside of hospitals. In 1980, devices, such as electrical stimulators, were introduced to perform Physiotherapy, this might be why the use of Ultrasound seems to be a popular treatment choice in Physiotherapy. Due to this prevalence within the hospital environment Physiotherapist are a popular and famous treatment choice while in the care of the NHS. However, like Osteopathy and Chiropractic, Physiotherapy also treat many conditions associated with muscles, bones, nerves, cartilage, tendons, ligaments and joints.

Osteopaths use techniques called palpation, articulation and manipulation – this is gentle massaging and movement of muscles and joints. Their treatment is approximately 90% hands on. Physiotherapists use techniques including palpation, articulation and manipulation of joints but also electrotherapy, hydrotherapy and ultrasound. Usually around 60% of their work is hands on – the rest of the time they work to develop exercise programmes with their patients. Each profession can undertake further training to be qualified in specific modalities such as medical acupuncture, ultrasound or tool assisted therapy to widen their choice of treatment modality.

Despite considerable similarities between the three professions, each one is keen not to lose its identity as their process of thought can be very different at times. Chiropractors, Osteopaths and physiotherapists treat patients musculoskeletal and sometimes visceral dysfunctions and discomfort as well as providing sufficient advice and ongoing exercises that will keep their patients striving to achieve their optimum level of health. Osteopaths, Chiropractors and Physiotherapists all attend training at university level and sometimes go on to do further courses with each other.

If you are still unsure which profession you need please don’t be disheartened, you can book a free consultation with us at Correct Osteo Clinic where we will assess your symptoms and advise on the right course of treatment guiding you to recovery. Just visit www.correctosteoclinic.co.uk to find out more.


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Osteopathy 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, muscles, ligaments, viscera and connective tissues functioning smoothly together Osteopathy takes a holistic, whole-body approach to healthcare.