Osteopath, Physiotherapist or Chiropractor?


What is the difference between an osteopath, chiropractor and physiotherapist?

Hello, my name is Jackie.  I have just joined the Trinity Practice as a receptionist.  Although I have always been interested in complimentary therapies, I realised that I am not completely clear of the difference myself!  On speaking to other people, I was reassured to hear that most also seemed confused !

Physiotherapy seems to be thought of as mainly a National Health treatment and is therefore perhaps better known.  Although there are some private practices, most people think of patients being referred by a doctor and there being no charge.   However, everyone mentioned that waiting lists can be very long. The conception seems to be that physiotherapists deal with rehabilitation after illness and operations or after specific injuries.

Chiropractors and Osteopaths are thought to be mainly working in private practice where no referral is needed.  The people I spoke to think of an Osteopath as someone who is quite gentle, using massage and manoeuvring techniques, while a Chiropractor uses manipulation and pressure points and “clicks” bones back into place.  

While researching the answer to the question, it became clear that there is a certain amount of overlap between all three.  They can all help to fix injuries, but each will approach things from a slightly different perspective.

Often back or neck pain are common reasons for people to consult either an osteopath or chiropractor. 

Chiropractors in general tend to concentrate on the spine for diagnosis and treatment, and “adjust” or “manipulate” the vertebrae.  They deal with the effect disorders can have on the nervous system and general health.   The focus is on optimisation of neurological functions and they are best recognised for treatment of spinal related issues.  

The principal of osteopathy is that the well being of an individual relies on the way that bones, muscles, ligaments, connective tissue and internal structures work with each other.  They diagnose the causes of the problem rather than just addressing the site of the problem.  They examine patients to assess the health of joints, tissues and ligaments using their hands to identify any points of pain, inflammation, weakness , tension and strain and then give a clear explanation of what they have found,  their diagnosis and discuss a treatment plan.

Physiotherapy helps people affected by injury, illness or disability through movement and exercise, manual therapy, education and advice.  They  use a more muscular approach which will be backed up with exercises.   They help patients to manage pain perhaps whilst waiting for an operation or afterwards.  NHS physiotherapists generally do not diagnose, as the diagnosis and treatment request tend to come from their consultant or GP.

It is perhaps still not clear which practitioner you should see!  The role of all three practitioners is both to help relieve pain and improve the quality of life for all their patients.

A recommendation will help – feeling comfortable and trusting your practitioner is important.  Many people try one of the three practices and then perhaps move on to one they feel would be more beneficial to them.


If The Trinity Practice can help in any way, please contact us.

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