Understanding Osteopathy, Physiotherapy, and Chiropractic Care

People who are beginning to explore alternative medicine to treat their health conditions and for their long term health and wellness are faced with the dilemma of deciding which the best option is for their concerns. What is the difference among the major healthcare options – osteopathy, physiotherapy and chiropractic care? Which one will bring the best benefits for me and my family? These are the common questions asked by most people who may have little knowledge about each of these healthcare options but not enough to make a definitive decision.

Let us start by citing how the professional organizations for these three healthcare options define and describe their method of therapy and services.


The Osteopathic International Alliance, the primary international organization of the osteopathic profession, with 70 member organizations in 30 countries, defines osteopathy as “a patient centered holistic approach to health care that recognizes the importance of the relationship between the structure of the body and the way it functions.”

Osteopaths or osteopathic physicians, the practitioners of this profession, apply palpation and other manual techniques to influence the joints, muscles, nerves, and connective tissues, circulation and the internal organs to enhance the body’s ability to restore and maintain health. Some of the manual techniques osteopaths use are joint manipulation, soft or deep tissue massage, articulation, soft tissue stretch and acupuncture. They also provide regular advice on exercise and posture to hasten recovery from injury and illness.


The World Confederation for Physical Therapy, the organization representing physiotherapists and their organizations around the world, currently numbering 111, describes physiotherapy in the following statement: ”Physical therapy provides services to individuals and populations to develop, maintain and restore maximum movement and functional ability throughout the lifespan. This includes providing services in circumstances where movement and function are threatened by ageing, injury, pain, diseases, disorders, conditions or environmental factors.  Functional movement is central to what it means to be healthy.”

Physiotherapists implement interventions or treatment program that includes manual therapy, movement and exercise, education and advice. They help patients to prevent disease and manage pain.

Chiropractic Care

The American Chiropractic Association, the largest national association and largest professional association in the world representing chiropractors, describes chiropractic care as “one of the most cost-effective, safest, drug-free, non-invasive therapies available for the treatment of neuromusculoskeletal complaints.”

Chiropractors employ specific manipulations techniques to restore alignments in the spine, where the nerve center of the human body is. In the chiropractic philosophy, a healthy nervous system results in the proper functioning of all other systems in the body, contributing to overall health and wellbeing.

What are Their Similarities?

  • Osteopathy, Physiotherapy and Chiropractic all hold that healing can occur when tension in the joints, tethered nerves, muscles and fascia are released. They do not prescribe drugs in their treatment procedure.
  • The common aim of these three professions is to help patients recover from injury and pain.
  • The practitioners in these fields are qualified and trained in their particular areas of expertise. Osteopaths and chiropractors have spent at least four years in training while physiotherapists have at least two years of training.
  • They all perform hands on work in the diagnosis and treatment of the conditions that prevent the body from healing.
  • They make and share a treatment plan with their patients to let them know what to expect in the course of the treatment.

How Do They Differ?

  • They differ in their treatment protocols and treatment techniques. Physiotherapy tends to be protocol driven, which means having less individual focus on the specific underlying cause of the health problem.
  • Physiotherapy and chiropractic tend to have more limited approaches. Chiropractic care focuses on the spine, joints and other surrounding structures and maintains that spinal and nerve health is the key to overall healing. Physiotherapy is focused on the restoration of movement and function especially in a condition involving illness, injury or disability. With osteopathy, there is not a single protocol applied to all therapy patients.
  • Physiotherapist use other tools like ultrasound and chiropractors in a few cases use electrical stimulators in adjustments. Osteopaths use only their hands.
  • In both osteopathy and chiropractic care, the general concern is to remove the causes that restrict the healing, regardless of the nature of the health complaint.

The decision to choose one therapy option over another is really up to you. It is helpful to do a bit more research on the subtleties of these treatment methods. It is important to fully understand the philosophy upon which their approach is predicated.