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Chiropractor or Osteopath: All You Need to Know

Osteopathy and Chiropractic: What Are the Differences?


This question is often asked by people looking for a therapist who can help them, for example, get rid of back or neck pain. Both a chiropractor and an osteopath can treat these complaints, but will do so from different theoretical models and principles. To explain these differences, we will first look at the similarities between the two therapies.


What Are Osteopathy and Chiropractic and How Are They Similar?


Osteopathy and chiropractic are manual therapies that, in general, focus on pain and musculoskeletal problems. Think of complaints

to muscles, joints and connective tissue. Both the chiropractor and the osteopath will first make a diagnosis based on examination. Based on this examination they will apply a treatment, and if necessary refer the patient to the general practitioner. Both assume a broad, holistic approach in which they try to find and treat the cause of the complaint(s). This means, that in the case of neck pain, for example, for the reduction of the complaints, not only the neck will be treated and massaged, but the therapist will also try to find out what the cause of the complaints is, and also try to address these complaints. The difference of both therapies is in the way the cause is sought, the focus of the treatment and the method of treatment.


What is Chiropractic?

The chiropractor specializes in the mobility of the spine, adjacent joint structures and related musculoskeletal complaints. In doing so, he will also look at the nervous system (brain, spinal cord and peripheral nerves), and particularly the spine and adjacent muscles and joints, as possible cause(s) of the problems. In chiropractic, the spinal column is central. Disturbances in the mobility of the spine are seen as the cause of many complaints. The chiropractor therefore spends much of his training diagnosing and treating spine-related problems.


To restore the mobility and correct position of the spine, the chiropractor will in many cases use manual manipulation, which is popularly known as "cracking. This is the best known therapy, but is, however, only one of many treatment methods. The most appropriate method will be determined based on the intake interview and orthopedic, neurological and chiropractic examinations. The chiropractor may have X-rays taken and will analyze them, and if he deems it necessary he will refer the patient to the family doctor.


Often the work of the chiropractor is confused with that of a manual therapist. Although both use manual manipulation, a manual therapist has college physical therapy training and the chiropractor has a six-year university education. Another major difference between a manual therapist and the chiropractor is that the former focuses primarily on the muscles and joints around the affected area, and the latter considers the entire body.


What is Osteopathy?

Osteopathy is an alternative medical treatment method that looks at the patient's broader lifestyle as a possible cause of (pain) symptoms, and considers the body as a whole. Again, the vertebra has a central place, but the osteopath will also involve the organs, skull, muscles and blood vessels in the treatment. According to osteopathy, the cause of back pain may lie in an entirely different part of the body, such as the intestines. Therefore, the osteopath focuses his attention on both the musculoskeletal system, the organ system (all internal organs) and the craniosacral system (the skull bones, spinal cord membrane, cerebrospinal fluid circulation and the spine).


The osteopath makes a diagnosis based on a comprehensive discussion of the symptoms, and an examination of the mobility of the back and general musculoskeletal system. In addition, the osteopath will feel with the hands where there are tensions in the body. The hands are also used as a method of treatment. By means of corrective grips, different parts of the body are treated, so not only the place where the complaint lies.


What Are the Differences Between Chiropractic and Osteopathy?

As we have seen, both therapies have similarities and often treat similar complaints. The main difference between the two is that the chiropractor focuses mainly on musculoskeletal pain that has its cause in the reduced mobility of the spine. Disorders in the spine, and their effects on the nervous system, muscles and joints, are central to chiropractic treatment, and are therefore the specialty of the chiropractor. The chiropractor differs from an osteopath in that he integrates his specialized knowledge with the analysis of X-rays, MRIs and other general diagnostic skills.


In contrast, when it comes to diagnosis and treatment, the osteopath focuses more on the patient's body and lifestyle in general. For example, he will also look at the influence of breathing and the patient's diet, as well as possible disturbances in the tissue material, muscles and organs. In making the diagnosis, he will use the information about the patient's lifestyle, rather than, for example, MRI or X-rays. And in the treatment, the osteopath uses mainly hand movements.


What does an osteopath do differently for back pain than a chiropractor?

A chiropractor will use general diagnostic skills, and based on the intake interview and certain physical examinations, to try to determine the cause of the back pain. After this, a treatment method will be chosen and, if necessary, the chiropractor will focus on improving the mobility of the spine and adjacent joint structures.


Through conversation, the osteopath will examine the patient's lifestyle and will then try to identify where the cause of the complaints lies through interventions. The musculoskeletal system, the organ system and the craniosacral system are central to this and the osteopath will try to restore their balance. This can be done, for example, by getting the structures with reduced mobility or tissue quality, through mobilization, stretching exercises and manipulations, to circulate better, recover and function better.