The major difference between an Osteopath and a Chiropractor is that while the Chiropractor is primarily focused on the spine and joints (and the muscles too"to a point), an Osteopath is also concerned with the rest of the body. they treat patients with respitory problems, digestive problems or any other number of problems that might not seem related to the spine or joints.
Both Chiropractors and Osteopaths use treatments that involve the moving of a person‚s body outside its usual range of motion. A Chiropractor will do this by swiftly moving a joint out of its usual range of motion and putting it back in its starting position. An Osteopath will usually employ a more gentle technique that stretches the muscles surrounding a joint in ways that they are not used to stretching.
Osteopaths work with a patient‚s whole body, not just the spinal system and joints. An osteopath will conduct a thorough exam of a patient‚s entire body to diagnose the patient‚s problem. He is usually contacted in a patient‚s effort to reduce pain or heal from an injury, but he helps patients with a variety of other problems as well. His methods of treatment involve physical therapy, adjustments to the body and massage.
It is a common misconception that certain physical therapy professions treat different problems. Chiropractic and Osteopathy are not treatments they are professions. Both of them specialise in the clinical diagnosis and treatment of muscle joint and nerve problems and both of them are trained to the same level in treating the full range of these conditions in all areas of the body. They are both trained to look at problems holistically, in terms of the biomechanical relationships between the function of areas of the body and the impact of these in both diagnosing and treating your condition. They both treat your whole body and are concerned with your full health picture.
The differences between Chiropractic and Osteopathy are now largely historical (although there are minor diferences in manipulative techniques both within and between both professions). As the professions have developed and the evidence-base for musculoskeletal medicine has grown there are now far more similarities than differences. Chiropractors spend on average 5 years doing their masters degrees. Core subjects are anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, psychology, clinical nutrition, clinical diagnosis, orthopaedics, radiology, radiography, neurology, pharmacology and rehabilitation techniques. Only evidence-based physical therapy is taught and the evidence-base and research journals used are the same for all the physical therapy professions. Chiropractic assessment should include a comprehensive past and present medical history, including all major body areas organs and systems, postural analysis, functional tests, range of motion testing, neurological tests, orthopaedic tests and analysis of any relevant medical images. Treatment as taught in all chiropractic institutions in the UK for the past 20 years should include any or all of the following: Joint manipulation or mobilisation, trigger point therapy, deep tissue massage, muscle release and stretching techniques, exercise plans for rehabilitation and long-term stabilisation, ergonomic and postural advice, nutritional advice, orthotics prescription, ultrasound, TENS, Interferential, activator techniques. Often dry-needling or medical acupuncture are used by members of the physical therapy professions too. If you have not had access to these you have not had standard chiropractic treatment. Some Osteopaths and Chiropractors when in practice sometimes decide to specialise in treating just some conditions or use a narrower range of treatments and this can give the misleading impression that this is representative of treatment by a particular profession. I would advise that generally any professional not providing a standard treatment slot in the order of 30minutes minimum duration is not allocating sufficient time to use the full range of evidence-based physical therapy to get you better.
Incidentally manipulation can be as gentle as the skilled practitioner needs it to be, dependent on the patient and is only one small treatment technique in the Chiropractic or Osteopathic tool bag. When not suitable or desirable it will be replaced with another appropriate treatment such as mobilisation, stretching or massage. Chiropractic and Osteopathic treatments do not always include manipulation. Which ever profession you choose there are good and bad therapists - although they are all trained to a standard that ensures your safety; shop around until you find one who suits you and seems more interested in getting you better (which ever type of treatment they nead to use) than in their bottom line!
This question is one of the commonist ones I am asked and the answer is not clear cut. There is a wide variation in styles of work among osteopaths and this is true of chiropractors too. So when comparing the two professions, we immediately begin to generalise. So everything I say now will be untrue for some osteopaths and some chiropractors.
First the similarities. Both professions have similar high levels of training (4 or 5 year degrees) both are similarly regulated (it's a criminal offence to claim to be either unless you are registered with the appropriate regulator) and both offer manual treatments to positively affect health by improving the mechanical functioning of the body.
Generalised differences - traditionally chiropractors have tended to emphasise the manipulation of joints, often producing the memorable clicks and pops, as the main stay of treatment. Osteopaths often use similar techniques, but have also tended to treat other tissues of the body as well, such as muscles, connective tissues and viscera (internal organs). The wider range of treatments used by osteopaths typically leads to longer appointment sessions. An average osteopath will see two patients an hour while an average chiropractor will see four.
It sounds like you may well need some help to rehabilitate so that you not only fix your current problems, but also help to prevent others in the future. This could require someone who can help you with corrective exercises and future training design. Finding someone with the skills and interests to do this may be more important for you than bothering about which profession they belong to. You could always ring around local practices and ask specifically about this.
Good luck with getting the problem sorted out.
Andrew Pallas ND DO MRN