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Chiropractic, Osteopathy and Physiotherapy

12/12/2014

As a chiropractor, one of the most common questions I am asked is: What is the difference between chiropractic, osteopathy and physiotherapy?

If I’m feeling facetious, I could answer: spelling!  Particularly where chiropractic and osteopathy are concerned, what we do and how we do it are more or less the same.  We may call it different things, but the actual mechanics behind it is very similar.  Historically, they were both developed around the same time at around the same part of America – slightly suspiciously, a guy named D.D. Palmer went to a lecture by a medical doctor names Andrew Still all about this wonderful new technique he had developed for treating disorders of the muscles and joints using only his hands.  He had called this technique osteopathy, and he was out spreading the work about how great an idea this was.  D.D. Palmer obviously thought it was pretty good, because a few months later he came up with this amazing new way of treating disorders called chiropractic, which was all about treating disorders of the muscles and joints using only...his.....hands.....are we seeing a pattern here?!

So essentially, there is as much variation between practitioners in each profession as there is between these two professions.  Some chiropractors use more massage than others, as do some osteopaths, and others are more focussed solely on adjustments.  Still others like to get you doing exercises and stretches in an effort to get you managing your own health.  It’s all about what they’ve found works for them and their patients, rather than the title given to what they are doing.

Bringing physiotherapy into the mix gets a little more complex, and there is a world of disagreement on this!  My personal view is that chiropractic and osteopathy in their purest forms - i.e. just concentrating on adjustments, with maybe a little soft tissue work thrown in – are great for getting rid of painful problems.  If you have a bad back, we can probably help you to get rid of the pain.  However, when it comes to stopping it coming back, we struggle.  We can keep treating it every time it rears its head, but that’s about the best we can do.  On the other hand Physiotherapy in its purest form – i.e. all about the stretches and exercises - often struggles at getting rid of your back pain, for example, but it’s absolutely fantastic at stopping it coming back.  Don’t get me wrong – there are exceptions to these rules, but in general it’s the way I have found it to work.

Luckily, for you as a patient, the three professions have consciously or unconsciously recognised this and taken steps to improve our ways of caring for you.  You will now find the majority of chiropractors and osteopaths doing a certain amount of core strength training, flexibility exercises and other forms of long-term care which allows us to help the pain go and stay gone.  In the same way, many physiotherapists now perform varying amounts of massage, ultrasound treatment and even some manipulation to help their patients recover from the painful stage, before moving on to the preventative stage.

So, modern Chiropractic and Osteopathy are more or less the same thing and Physiotherapy is also very similar.  The only difference is that Chiropractors and Osteopaths come from a background of sorting the pain and have added in techniques to help prevent it, while Physiotherapists come from a background of preventing problems and have added techniques to help with the initial pain stage.  Who should you take your low back pain or shoulder problem to?  It’s all about personal preference – the standard of care you will receive with any practitioner in these 3 professions should be excellent, regardless.

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