What’s the difference between Osteopathy, Physiotherapy and Chiropractic?


What’s the difference between Osteopathy, Physiotherapy and Chiropractic?  It’s a common question people ask when they need treatment for an injury… Here, Dr Claire Richardson breaks it down for us…

It’s one of the most frequently asked questions that I hear, and my answer depends on a couple of things – how much detail does the person asking the question want, and how much time do they have.

There are differences, but in saying that, there’s also differences between practitioners amongst each profession, so it’s a difficult question to answer succinctly.

To get a better idea of how they differ, first you need to know a (brief) history of each of the professions.

Osteopathy was founded in the USA in 1892, by a doctor named Andrew Taylor Still. (A.T. for short).

As a doctor, A.T. Still grew wary of the medicine of the time as he believed it often caused more harm than good. In the 1890′s we were still frequently treating patients using arsenic, castor oil, whiskey, opium and heroin, so he was probably right in many ways.

The last straw for Dr. Still came when he was unable to save 3 of his children from spinal meningitis, and another from pneumonia, despite treating them to the best of his ability following the medical protocols of the day.

A.T. Still decided that there must be a better way to find health, and osteopathy was born. At the time, osteopathy was deemed an “alternative” to conventional medical practices. A.T. Still believed that by correcting any misalignments throughout the body, everything else was allowed to function better.

For instance, poor posture or breathing may affect blood flow through the arteries near by, or spinal compression or tightness may affect nerves going down the legs.

He saw this as a much less harmful way to improve health, and osteopathy was touted as being able to assist everything – including infection, gangrene, deafness and many others.

Physiotherapy was born a few years later – in Australia it was 1906. At the time, massage therapists worked in hospitals to keep patients comfortable and to help prevent bedsores. These therapists teamed up with nurses around the time of the first world war due to the amount of injured soldiers returning from war. They needed to come up with ways of rehabilitating these injured soldiers, and physiotherapy was solidified in the Australian health care landscape.

Chiropractic was invented when one of A.T. Still’s students decided that the majority of disease in the body seems to stem from the spine and spinal nerves, thus manipulation of the spine could affect the rest of the body.

Today, we live in a very different world medically. The treatments we have at hand are amazing, and no longer cause more harm than good.

I believe that osteopathy has moved with the times – no longer do we claim to cure infections or deafness (antibiotics and ENT specialists are far more effective than any of us could ever be!) and we’re certainly no longer an “alternative” to conventional medicine, rather we are a “complimentary” therapy that works with, not against, our doctors.

So, from a philosophic point of view, most osteopaths will still stick to some of the broader principles of treatment – including looking at the whole person rather than just a symptom, and taking into account vascular health, nerve health, musculoskeletal health and mental health in order to assist with a complaint.

Most chiropractors will assess and treat the spine, before they move on to other things.

Most physiotherapists will include some kind of rehab in their treatment plans (exercises).

Having said that, we all do all of the above. I certainly assess spines, I certainly include rehab. I know physio’s who have more of a “whole body” emphasis than I do, and I know chiro’s who don’t often manipulate spines.

The reason there’s now so much overlap is that we have evidence to support what works and what doesn’t when assisting our patient’s musculoskeletal ailments. We all try and go for what we know works, so we’re all pinching a bit here and there from each other.

When choosing a practitioner, the main concern you should have is finding someone you trust and are comfortable with. The qualification is a consideration, but less so than it was 120 years ago.

This article originally appeared on www.wellbeing.com.au