Chiropractic vs Physiotherapy vs Osteopathy – What is the Difference?

One of the more common questions asked to Complementary and Alternative Medical(CAM) practitioners is “What is the difference Chiropractic, Physiotherapy and Osteopathy? Aren’t they all the same?”

Before we try to differentiate and compare the three of them, we need to define and understand them first individually and refer to general information published by their respective and duly recognized professional bodies.

What is Chiropractic.

chiropractic is natural

The term “chiropractic” combines the Greek words cheir (hand) and praxis (practice) to describe a treatment done by hand. Hands-on therapy—especially adjustment of the spine—is central to chiropractic care. Chiropractic is based on the notion that the relationship between the body’s structure (primarily that of the spine) and its function (as coordinated by the nervous system) affects health.

Spinal adjustment/manipulation—mostly through manual means, by using the hands, — is a core treatment technique in chiropractic care, but it is not synonymous with chiropractic. Chiropractors commonly use other treatments in addition to spinal manipulation, and other health care providers (e.g., physical therapists or some osteopathic physicians) may use spinal manipulation. There are several treatments used by chiropractic professionals that use special tools and instruments developed specifically for it.

Chiropractic professionals are called Chiropractors.

Chiropractic Treatment

In a typical visit to a chiropractor, if it is your first time, they will first perform a routine physical checkup/examination to establish your current state of health but with also a special focus on the spine. If the chiropractor determines that chiropractic is appropriate and will benefit the patient, a specific treatment plan will be formulated and presented to the patient. Chiros treat headaches, backpain, neckpain and help in general performance and recovery for athletes.

Treatment plans are similar between patients but the specifics will be unique to suit the unique needs of a patient.


Safety is always a top priority for anyone in the medical field, and that includes Chiropractic. Below are the more common remarks by patients:

  • Side effects from spinal manipulation can include temporary headaches, tiredness, slight soreness, or discomfort in the parts of the body that were treated.
  • There have been rare reports of serious complications such as stroke, cauda equina syndrome (a condition involving pinched nerves in the lower part of the spinal canal), and worsening of herniated discs, although cause and effect are unclear.

Chiropractic Education and Licensing

Chiropractic is a duly recognized form of alternative medicine around the world, so much so that chiropractors need formal education and approval from a respective governing body in order to safely practice professionally.

Chiropractic care is mostly popular in Australia, United States of America, and the United Kingdom. These places have governing bodies in place and educational curriculum to ensure the standard and quality of care that will be performed by current and future chiropractors.

Chiropractors all over the world are also part of ICA or International Chiropractic Association which oversees the advancement, and education for Chiropractic especially in places unfamiliar with it.

What is Physiotherapy?

physios are alternative health practioners compared to chiros and osteos

Physicians like Hippocrates and later Galenus are believed to have been the first practitioners of physiotherapy, advocating massage, manual therapy techniques and hydrotherapy to treat people in 460 B.C. After the development of orthopedics in the eighteenth century, machines like the

The earliest documented origins of actual physiotherapy as a professional group date back to Per Henrik Ling “Father of Swedish Gymnastics” who founded the Royal Central Institute of Gymnastics (RCIG) in 1813 for massage, manipulation, and exercise. In 1887, PTs were given official registration by Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare.

Physiotherapy (also Physical Therapy as referred to by the WCPT) is a health care profession concerned with human function and movement and maximising potential. It is concerned with identifying and maximising quality of life and movement potential within the spheres of promotion, prevention, treatment/intervention, habilitation and rehabilitation. It uses physical approaches to promote, maintain and restore physical, psychological and social well-being, taking account of variations in health status. The exercise of clinical judgement and informed interpretation is at its core.

Practitioners are called PTs or Physical Therapists.

Understanding Physiotherapy Treatment

Physiotherapy has a wide variety of applications that it would need a separate article altogether, here is a list a few of the treatments performed by a PT:

  • Physiotherapy Taping
  • Acupuncture and Dry Needling
  • Neurodynamics
  • Massage
  • Joint Mobilisation
  • Joint Manipulation
  • Biomechanical Analysis

Physiotherapist Specialties Education and  Licensing

Physical Therapy and physiotherapy in Australia is a recognized form of alternative medicine worldwide and have the respective educational and licensing guidelines needed to practice it—this will vary a bit from country to country.

Because the body of knowledge of physiotherapy is quite large, PTs tend to specialize in a specific clinical area. These include:

  • MSK / Ortho
  • Older People / Geriatrics
  • Pain
  • Cardiopulmonary
  • Paediatrics
  • Sports Medicine
  • Rheumatology
  • Women’s Health
  • Oncology
  • Extended Scope
  • Medical Conditions
  • Public Health
  • Neurology


What is Osteopathy?

should i see a chiropractor or osteopath

Osteopathic medicine was founded in the late 1800s in Kirksville, Missouri, by a medical doctor who recognized that the medical practices of the day often caused more harm than good. He focused on developing a system of medical care that would promote the body’s innate ability to heal itself and called this system of medicine osteopathy, now known as osteopathic medicine.

Osteopathic physicians, also known as DOs, work in partnership with their patients. They consider the impact that lifestyle and community have on the health of everyone, and they work to break down barriers to good health. DOs are licensed to practice the full scope of medicine in all 50 states. They practice in all types of environments, including the military, and in all types of specialties, from family medicine to obstetrics, surgery, and aerospace medicine.

Osteopathic Treatment

Osteopathic manipulative treatment, or OMT, is hands-on care. It involves using the hands to diagnose, treat, and prevent illness or injury. Using OMT, your osteopathic physician will move your muscles and joints using techniques including stretching, gentle pressure and resistance.

Osteopath Education and Licensing

Osteopathy is a recognized form of medicine, thus it has a proper educational curriculum and governing body in major areas around the world.

In Australia, all osteopaths’ complete minimum, accredited university training in anatomy, physiology, pathology, general medical diagnosis and osteopathic techniques. They are also trained to perform standard examinations of the musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, respiratory and nervous systems. These university graduates hold either a double Bachelors or Master qualification.

Differences Between Chiro, Osteo and Physio?

So, we know have an idea on what those three different bodies of treatments are, but what are their differences?

To be honest, Chiropractic, Osteopathy, and Physiotherapy are very similar so much that practitioners from the three use common techniques such as manual manipulation, and dry needling.

Some of their differences stem from the approach, and philosophy of each.

Chiropractic vs Osteopathy

Some of the similarities between them are:

  • Both treat more than just bone joints and soft tissues.
  • Both work on the nervous system and blood supply to influence all the bodily systems. This makes them capable of alleviating the symptoms of many diagnosed medical conditions such as circulatory problems, digestive disorders and migraine prevention to name a few.
  • In diagnosing patients, osteopaths and chiropractors both use observation and touch.


  • Chiropractors tend to focus mainly (but not exclusively) on the alignment of the spine as the primary means to relieve pain by preventing any compromise of the nervous system, whereas osteopaths look at the body as a whole and help improve its function by correcting the overall structure.
  • Chiropractors use more diagnostic procedures such as X-rays, MRI scans, blood tests and urine tests, whereas osteopaths place more emphasis on physical examination, and will generally refer patients on for more diagnostic procedures if required.
  • Osteopaths treat a broader range of functional problems, including issues such as circulatory and digestive system disorders.
  • Osteopaths tend to use a greater variety of techniques to influence the body’s own innate healing system such as muscle and soft tissue work, joint articulation and manipulation, whereas chiropractors use a wider number of techniques for the “adjustment” on the vertebrae, like osteopathic manipulation, to facilitate optimal nerve transition.
  • Osteopathy was founded 21 years before the chiropractic discipline.

Chiropractic vs Physiotherapy

Chiropractors and PTs are basically trained similarly except that a Physiotherapist has a broader range of education and training, which is why they overlap with Chiropractic, while Chiropractors are trained to deal with the spine specifically and the joints around it.

In Summary

  • Chiropractors are trained to take and read x-rays which may be appropriate in cases such as trauma or pathology.
  • Physiotherapy is a very broad-based training. Physiotherapists must work with a diverse spectrum of conditions, ranging from breathing problems to post-operative rehabilitation. Therefore, if you choose a physiotherapist for your back pain, we would suggest you choose a physiotherapist with a special interest in the field of back pain or spinal therapy. Traditionally, physiotherapists are less ‘hands on’ with their treatment of back pain, using more exercise-based approaches.
  • Osteopaths are not trained in radiography or radiology; their therapeutic approach has more similarities to that of a chiropractor than differences. If an Osteopath requires further imaging they can easily request x-rays or scans at an imaging centre.








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