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  • Writer's pictureGregory Curylo

What is the difference between Osteopathy, Physiotherapy and Chiropractic?

Updated: Feb 25, 2022

One of the most frequent questions from my patients is: what is the difference between an osteopath, physiotherapist, or chiropractor? Most people more or less know what a physiotherapist is, but, Osteopath? Chiropractor? This is a big unknown.

There are many methods of working with the body and its dysfunctions and pain. Massage is one of the oldest and first therapeutic methods used by people all over the world. They differ in their techniques, often based on culture or even religion, depending on their origin: Shiatsu (Japan), Tuina (China) or Abhyanga (India). All these forms have evolved over centuries or have remained unchanged in their original form. Contemporary forms of massage include relaxation massage, sports therapy, deep tissue massage and lymphatic drainage.

Also, chiropractic, or what is known as adjusting vertebrae and joints, was used in antiquity in virtually every culture. Through some and great people such as Andrew Taylor Still and David Palmer, chiropractic has been spread and in modern years, accepted by academic medicine, as an effective method of working with skeletal dysfunctions. For example, Osteopathy in the UK is recognised by the NHS, right next to physiotherapy as a medical direction (in addition to chiropractic, which is still considered alternative medicine). They differ in philosophy and approach, as well as in therapeutic methods.


What are the most popular therapies in the UK?

Among the most well-known and applied British therapies that are also gaining their popularity in Poland are;

  • Osteopathy - assesses and addresses structural and mechanical problems in the body, its aim is to bring the whole body back into balance. It was started by pastor Andrew Taylor Still in the XIX century, who, after his three children (who died of meningitis) died, became interested in the human body and its mysteries. After many years of self-science and experimentation, he concluded that human health is based on the proper functioning of the skeleton, muscles and fascia. He also claimed that the body has the capacity for self-repair, self-regulation, but it is necessary to remove the obstacles that cause dysfunction (e.g. by setting the appropriate vertebrae, we can improve nerve function and circulation). And T Still argued that restoring the blood supply is most important.

  • Chiropractic - works on the optimal alignment of the spine, relieving pain and dysfunction in the process. It originated with David Palmer, a student of A T Still, (briefly chiropractic is derived from osteopathy) who disagreed with his teacher, claiming that spinal/joint manipulation was sufficient. Palmer challenged A T Still, claiming that innervation was more important than blood supply. Therefore, chiropractors rarely use massage and other forms of therapy. They rely on frequent (often daily) manipulations of the joints and spine.

  • Physiotherapy - the primary objective of physiotherapists is to treat problems affecting movement in order to improve or enhance a person's ability to move and function again. Its origins also go back to distant times. In Greece, Hippocrates used exercise to improve the health of his patients. Ambroise Pare, was regarded in modern Europe as a pioneer of rehabilitation. Pare used various types of massage to speed up recovery, and rehabilitation exercises after fractures and other joint problems.

All these professions use scientifically proven techniques to restore the structure and function of the patient's body, thus eliminating pain, increasing the range of movement, removing tension, etc. New research continues to be produced on different techniques and manipulations in order to understand better which are more effective for a given dysfunction or disease.

Who to choose? Who is better?

All these professions work together to best help their patients. Physiotherapists, for example, will be better suited to the rehabilitation after injuries, fractures or strokes than chiropractors or osteopaths. Osteopaths or chiropractors, on the other hand, may help more when specialised manipulations need to be used. If one prefers massage combined with manipulation then osteopathy would be the best choice.

Currently, physiotherapy is the most common MSK modality in the English NHS. For last few years osteopathy has been appearing alongside, English GPs, orthopaedists and physiotherapists, due to the excellent knowledge of the body by osteopaths and their long studies of 4-6 years, but also specialisations such as pediatric osteopathy, classical osteopathy, visceral osteopathy, craniosacral or sports osteopathy.

So who is better? There is no clear answer to this question. Each of these professions has its pros and cons. I believe that these professions should complement each other rather than fight each other in order to bring benefits and relief to those in need.


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