What is the difference between osteopathy and chiropractic?

Generally osteopaths spend longer with each patient (on average 45 minutes) compared to chiropractors (on average 5-10 minutes). In addition, osteopathic patients generally require less frequent treatments, and their treatments are spaced out over a longer period of time, rather than once or twice weekly for chiropractors. Some chiropractors are known to require or encourage their patients to sign on for a course of 12 or 24 or more treatments, even for minor complaints like lower back ache. Osteopaths do not impose such requirements and depending on a person's condition, some complaints may require just one or two treatments.

Below is an outline of the main similarities and differences between the two, but bear in mind it is from an osteopath’s point of view; if you ask a chiropractor, you may get a different answer.

The Similarities:

  • Founded in the USA in the late 19th century.
  • A formal training leading to a BSc(Hons) or Batchelor degree.
  • Both are statutorily regulated with their own Acts of Parliament and their own General Councils.
  • Share a common philosophy about the importance of the integrity of the spine in ensuring good health. The primary treatment objective of both is to remove bodily aches and pain.

The Differences:

  • Chiropractic treatment tends to emphasise on quick manipulations of spinal joints only ("cracking the spine").
  • Osteopathic treatment tends to involve rhythmic stretching, articulation, mobilization and manipulation on joints and muscles of the whole body.
  • Osteopaths are trained in cranial osteopathy (cranio-sacral therapy) which involves very subtle and gentle work on the skull without any “clicking” of the joints.
  • Chiropractors use the title “Doctor” in front of their name whereas osteopaths don’t as they feel the public may confuse them with GP’s.
  • Osteopaths are able to perform diagnosis by visual inspection and palpation (feeling by hand).
  • Chiropractors rely on x-rays for diagnosis.
  • Osteopaths do not order x-rays unless they are clinically indicated. This minimizes a person's exposure to radiation.

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