Sometimes I advise patients that their joints need a bit more attention by either a Chiropractor or an Osteopath. Many of them already have an idea of which they prefer but today’s article is for those who don’t really understand the difference between Osteopathy and Chiropractic. To make things even more challenging there are different ways of treating within each of these fields as well. Today I will explain the differences and offer my opinions on who you should see and why!

What does an Osteopath do?

I have had treatment from many Osteopaths and have had the opportunity to work alongside some Osteopaths so I have great respect for what they do. One Osteopath was from when I was a kid; she did some massage and manipulation and believed on working on the inside just as much as the outside. She was a big believer in fermented foods and looking after ones self nutritionally. It would normally take me about 3 days to recover as she worked our bodies from head to toe so there was a lot for the nervous system to process. The Osteopaths I worked alongside were more about the musculoskeletal system but did recommend things like magnesium, a good pillow and proper Pilates exercises. They did manipulation with some patients but understood that some people respond better to a gentler approach and used other methods to achieve the same results. The Osteopath I still see is even more gentle. He uses a technique called Bio-dynamic Osteopathy which he says is the original way Osteopaths used to work. It is all about balancing the nervous system and making it whole again so your body can heal itself inside and out. It’s quite amazing and no amount of writing about it can do it justice!

To give you a final picture of what an Osteopath is all about, here is the deescription straight from Osteopathy Australia.

Osteopathy is a form of manual healthcare which recognises the important link between the structure of the body and the way it functions. Osteopaths focus on how the skeleton, joints, muscles, nerves, circulation, connective tissue and internal organs function as a holistic unit…

What does a Chiropractor do?

I have also been to a few Chiropractors along my musculoskeletal journey. Unfortunately not all pleasant! Chiropractic used to be fairly old school and all about cracking, it’s leaning away from that more and more these days. Some Chiropractors still adjust but normally warm up the surrounding tissues first with either massage or heat lamps. Some Chiropractors take a holistic approach and slowly work at lining the whole body where as others believe just working on the painful area is best. Some now use a a machine called the Activator Adjusting Instrument which is a little hand held unit that delivers a gentle force over the desired area. Traditionally Chiropractors believed that many different health benefits could come from releasing pressure off the nervous system around the spine. In Australia it is more common for Chiropractors to work on many different joints, not just the spine, and focus more on the skeletal system and not so much the benefits that might come to organs of the body.

Here is the definition from the World Federation of Chiropractors to help you understand more fully what Chiropractors do:

A health profession concerned with the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mechanical disorders of the musculoskeletal system, and the effects of these disorders on the function of the nervous system and general health. There is an emphasis on manual treatments including spinal adjustment and other joint and soft-tissue manipulation.”

Osteopathy vs Chiropractic

Finding a good practitioner whether they are an Osteopath or a Chiropractor is key. You might do this by getting a recommendation from a friend or family member or from the advisement of someone in your health team such as a Myotherapist, Physiotherapist or General Practitioner. The key elements of a good practitioner include good listening and communication skills, ability to work in conjunction with other allied health or medical practitioners, recommendation of government guidelines such as good nutrition and adequate amount of exercise and they should follow a patient or client centered approach where you (the patient) are ultimately in control of what treatment you receive, therefore the Osteopath or Chiropractor will adjust their treatment to make you feel comfortable and safe.

When I am recommending other practitioners to my patients I always consider their bodies and their past experiences; I refer to whom I think they will respond best to. If they only like hands on treatment from us and don’t respond well to dry needling for example I am more likely to recommend the Osteopaths I know as they have a gentle approach. If someone is dealing with a lot of stress in their lives I am also more likely to recommend an Osteopath. If someone loves dry needling and likes really deep tissue, they will usually respond well to Chiropractic. If someone has already been seeing an Osteopath or Chiropractor and not getting results I will recommend trying the other approach and so on.

In conclusion Osteopathy and Chiropractic are both great for dealing with joint problems and I work together with both for this reason. In research they are showing more and more that the placebo effect is greater than we realise, it’s intertwined into so many things we do. Tap into this if you can. If you have heard about a friend of a friend who got a great result with a Chiropractor, try the Chiropractor. If you have heard a horror story of a family member who felt horrible after seeing an Osteopath, probably best not to see an Osteopath to start with. Our judgments whether conscious or subconscious play a huge role in how we recover, so again, try to tap into that as much as possible!


Which therapy is right for me?