We get asked all the time what the difference is between an osteopath, a chiropractor and a physiotherapist. And from the patient’s perspective, there might not actually seem to be much difference between the three.
With all three, you’ll present to the practice, share your story and medical history, and your chosen practitioner will perform a series of tests and exams on your body before reaching a conclusion about what’s going on. Next they’ll proceed with a variety of physical treatments aimed at remedying the problem.
But as always, the devil is in the details.
Traditionally, Physiotherapists have often followed an ‘ultrasound and taping’ treatment plan. These days they use a more hands-on approach as well as the ultrasound and taping, and patients might also do exercises to aid in their recovery. Treatment is often rehabilitation- and exercise-oriented.
Chiropractors normally use a shorter treatment time compared with Physiotherapists or Osteopaths, and it is often cheaper. They predominantly use hands-on techniques, especially focusing on manipulative or joint “popping” techniques.
Osteopathy, on the other hand, uses longer session times and a variety of gentler hands-on techniques. They use manipulation too, but on fewer patients than Chiropractors. And because an Osteopath spends a longer time with patient, treatment can be more expensive.
These are generalisations about all three professions, and individual practitioners vary – significantly. Many readers might have seen one of the above, and be thinking “my experience was nothing like that”. I’m speaking from my experience of dealing with all three professions over a decade or more. Generally they conform to these descriptions, but a Physiotherapist might use more Osteopathic techniques or manipulation and an Osteopath might do only rehabilitation and exercise supervision, for example. All practitioners will try to fix the patient’s problems using techniques they’ve found successful in the past.
The difficulty for people needing help with pain is untangling this mess and finding the right approach to suit them. This article aims to help you make the right choice when faced with this choice. It’s not so much about which profession, but which practitioner is right for you. Attributes that make a great practitioner are universal and you can identify them when meeting or talking to a therapist.
Great practitioners are those you can discuss your complaints with, without feeling rushed. They are attentive and sympathetic. You shouldn’t feel apprehensive about asking your therapist a question and you should always feel you’ve been heard. Great practitioners are those who outline what the problem is in detail and discuss the risks of a treatment before beginning. They make sure you understand what is going on. They can be flexible with treatment choices and will admit if they think they’ve made an error. Above all, they always put your best interests first, especially when dealing with third parties like your employer or insurers. You should always feel you have a say in your treatment and your relationship with your therapist must be harmonious; good results are the consequence of teamwork and a good therapist-patient relationship is essential in achieving this.