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Osteopath vs Chiropractor: Is there a difference?

Hi, Dr Joshua Smith here, founder of award-winning Life Balance Chiropractic. At Life Balance Chiropractic Centre we are passionate about changing the lives of the people we serve. 

We make taking care of your body easy and make your body a better place to be. While enabling busy mums and their families to feel better, move freely and live more so they can continue doing what they love. 

Today I will share the most common question I get asked as a chiropractor working in Poole and Bournemouth, Dorset. Every client coming into the Life Balance Chiropractic Centre asks these questions below at some point in their care journey. 

Does this sound familiar? 

You are inspired to become more physically active and become fitter, despite all the other things you focus on, juggling work and taking care of the family. You find it increasingly difficult to carve out time, but you make the time and keep it up for a while. 

However, with all of life's stressors, your body starts to feel the strain, your body begins to hurt, it is stressed, and therefore you start to feel like crap. 

You have seen the transformations in the quality of life achieved by others. Still, you feel like your body is not performing as it should, and perhaps your body is not a great place to be. As you just cannot seem to prevent your back pain or other symptoms.

Finding the right practitioner to address your health issues can be frustrating especially if your body is hurting or you feel stressed. You just want to find that one thing that is pain relieving.   

If you can relate to this, let me shed some light on what might be happening in this situation...

  1. You might think it will go away on its own. So, you ignore those niggles, aches or muscle spasms and just try to power through, making it last longer than it should and the pain worse. You may be lacking a deeper awareness. 
  2. You have had all the different tests and seen different healthcare practitioners with no real answer. Therefore you just try to figure it out on your own, potentially making the issue worse. 
  3. You might have been told different things by different people, so you accept their suggestion, making it last long periods.
  4. You might have lacked long-term results where you have tried different health care professionals and nothing they said or did seem to help long term. So you just accept the discomfort and make it part of life. 
  5. You may have tried the exercises or stretches prescribed on youtube, and they only worsened things. 

If this sounds familiar and you are still trying to figure out who you should see. There are no clear-cut answers to this question as there is much overlap between therapies. Let’s take a look at what both an osteopath and a chiropractor have to offer. To help you make a more informed decision about what to do next when it comes to your health. 

How to choose an Osteopath or Chiropractor? 

All the team here at Life Balance Chiropractic understand that regardless of the profession, we are all trying to achieve the same goals for our clients. However, we use a different philosophy, and holistic approach and science to get there. 

Our advice when searching osteopath vs chiropractic would be as follows: 

  • Make sure the chiropractor or osteopath has studied at a degree level for over a 4 - 5 year period. 
  • When you enquire, ensure that their governing body fully licences them. You can check the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC) or the General Chiropractic Council (GCC) to make sure that they are registered. 
  • When you enquire, make sure they hold an appropriate membership; British Osteopathic Association, United Chiropractic Association, British Chiropractic association or Scotland Chiropractic association. 
  • Where possible, try to use a chiropractor or osteopath recommended to you by a friend, family member or your GP. 
  • Do not feel under pressure to continue with any care or treatment if the chiropractic or osteopathy isn’t working for you. Over some time you may feel the care doesn't suit your body. 


Philosophy of Osteopathy vs Chiropractic.

Both Osteopathy and chiropractic were founded in the late 1800s. The fundamental concept is that health is a natural harmony and comes from within both focusing on the spine.. Both philosophies agree that the body heals itself and for a long time considered alternative medicine. 

Osteopathy was founded by Andrew Taylor Still, and the main principle is that blood and lymphatics need to flow freely to do their job through the musculoskeletal system. Through trauma, physical or emotional, tissues contract, twist or compress the fluid becomes obstructed. These obstructions were considered significant contributors to the onset of disease. Osteopaths use osteopathic or physical manipulations to restore freedom in the tissue and normalise blood flow, leading to healing. 

Daniel David Palmer founded chiropractic, and the main principle is that the nervous system (the brain, spinal cord, and nerves) can interfere with communication between the brain and body. 

Stresses in life (physical, mental, emotional and chemical) create vertebral subluxation within the spine. This problem compresses the nerves and can cause problems where the nerves go if left uncorrected. 

Chiropractors focus on checking for vertebral subluxation and, when necessary, use chiropractic adjustments to correct them. Adjustments restore motion, provide pain relief,  by improving the function of the spine, enabling the fullest expression of life's potential and signals travelling along the nerves and through the nervous system.

What is the difference between a chiropractic and an osteopathic?

Osteopath's assessment of patients rarely uses equipment to find out what the problem is and form a diagnosis. They rely more on their case history, palpatory findings and orthopaedic testing to formulate, diagnose and treat.

Some osteopaths treat you on your first appointment when you see them. Osteopaths are not trained to take x-rays or read x-rays. They can refer for imaging or other tests to the GP, private clinic, or imaging centre where required. 

Chiropractors' assessments also use their case history, palpatory skills, and orthopaedic and nerve tests to formulate a care plan. Chiropractors tend to use more of the latest technology to understand better the problem presented. Chiropractors take and read digital x-rays, which may be clinically appropriate to inform the care provided. Some Chiropractic clinics have digital x-ray facilities on site for quick turnaround and analysis.

Many Chiropractors also use digital posture apps to understand how your posture, alignment and stress areas contribute to the problem using the latest medical advancements. Some chiropractors treat you on your first visit. In contrast, other chiropractors go away to take the time to analyse your findings. They will then book you for a second appointment where they will explain to you the findings and the treatment plan before any treatment is given. 

The approach to client care is at times different, with osteopaths focusing on the muscular, spinal and entire body. Treatment from an osteopath can involve massage, physical therapy and body adjustments known as osteopathic manipulation.

Chiropractor's approach focuses on the nervous system, muscles and joints, specifically the spine and extremities. Chiropractic is the only profession in the world to asses for vertebral subluxation, analyse them and correct them only where appropriate through specific chiropractic adjustments.

A vertebral subluxation is a misalignment or lack of motion of the bones of the spine. This can put pressure on the nerves that exit the spine or the spinal cord affecting the maximum expression of life and human potential to the area being obstructed. This can cause problems with where they go to. 

Chiropractors tend to use more high-speed, lower-force corrections to swiftly move a vertebra or joint to restore better function and motion. Whereas an osteopath will usually use more passive and repetitive techniques that stretch the muscles and ligaments surrounding the joint to improve function. Although this is more common chiropractors can use gentle mobilisation when indicated or based on your preference, an osteopath uses more forceful manipulation when indicated. 

Osteopathic treatments are often longer than chiropractic treatments although this does depend on who you see and what the objective of care is. Longer treatments do not necessarily mean better results and vice versa. Osteopathic treatments last around 30 minutes and involve more massage work, believing that if you massage an area first when it comes to manipulation the body finds it easier.

Chiropractic treatments range between 15 - 30 minutes and believe that if you adjust only areas which need to be rather than general areas of tightness or stiffness the muscles relax. As it is the nerves that control the muscles. Some chiropractors will also use spinal traction and a Dennoroll to correct the shape of the spine. This opens the holes in the spine where the nerves exit and separate the vertebrae which reduces nerve root pressure, decompresses the discs, and reduces pain

What are the similarities between an osteopath and a chiropractor? 

An osteopath and chiropractor often will work with your entire body rather than just the main area of pain or concern. 

Both osteopathy and chiropractic are concerned with addressing the whole person and a holistic view of you rather than just the symptom or area of concern. 

Both chiropractors and osteopaths use approaches involving moving a person's spine outside its usual range of motion. This can sometimes result in joints ‘cracking’ or 'releasing. 

Both osteopaths and chiropractors undertake several years of in-depth training to become qualified. 

Both professionals will often as part of their treatment plan come up with a personalised exercise prescription or lifestyle modifications. Seeing you as an equal partner in your healing and recovery rather than just a passive participant. 

Is an osteopath more qualified than a chiropractor?  

The answer is no. Both osteopathy and chiropractic take 4 - 5 years to qualify for and receive a degree or master in. 

Both professions are qualified for the same standard of clinical care that is evidence-informed

Both osteopaths and chiropractors are required to partake in at least 20-30+ hours of continuing professional development per year. Many professionals go well above and beyond this to broaden or specialise in their skills. 

Is a Chiropractor Vs Osteopath better? 

There are no comparative studies to suggest osteopathy vs chiropractor is better than the other. It does come down to your individual preference and choice. 

Both methods have proven to be effective in treating a wide variety of illnesses and symptoms. So it’s down to your individual preference and whether you feel one is a better fit for you over another. The best thing to do is try both methods with different practitioners and see which you prefer.

Clients often will find relief with both techniques when suffering from conditions such as Migraines and Headaches, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Frozen Shoulder, Sciatica, Herniated Disc, Neck Pain, Lower Back Pain, Sports Injuries and Pelvic Girdle Pain. Some chiropractors and osteopaths have a special interest in pregnancy care and paediatrics. 

Osteopathic manipulation vs chiropractic adjustment.

Osteopaths use osteopathic manipulation which is moving your joints and muscles using stretching, resistance and gentle pressure. The care is focused on long lever manipulations and manipulation of all the joints in a problem area. Osteopathy is more general and based on what is felt from palpation. 

Chiropractors use chiropractic adjustments only when necessary when there is a presence of vertebral subluxation. The chiropractic adjustment is more specific and focused on the specific areas throughout the spine or extremities which have been found from the examination, tests and x-ray analysis.

This is because chiropractors' education is that only specific segments lose motion or alignment. So not everything needs to move and some areas may be moving too much. So they focus on these areas where there is a lack of motion or alignment only. 

Both professions use some techniques that are more gentle than others that are more high speed but low force. There is a wide range of techniques both practitioners use, which means they can tailor their approach to the individual patient. 

In osteopathy and chiropractic, manipulation is seen as one of many tools to be used which help the patient get better function. However, their skill in the assessment, analysis and the actual spinal manipulation or adjustment is very different depending on who you see. As well as whether it’s seen as just another tool in the toolbox or the differentiator between one practitioner and another.

Some chiropractors regularly train, making receiving an adjustment from them very different compared to someone who does not actively perform manipulations but rather treats this skill as just another tool.

Any spinal manipulation or chiropractic adjustment should not be painful. However, occasionally particularly in the beginning, you might expect to be sore for a day or two, especially if the area is particularly inflamed or painful. 

How much does an osteopath cost vs a Chiropractor cost in the UK?

Most osteopaths work in the private sector meaning you will usually need to pay for treatment. Fees range from £41 - £60 for the initial consultation and £31 - £50 for subsequent sessions (according to the Institute of Osteopathy Membership Census 2017).

Most chiropractors also work within the private healthcare sector and so you will usually need to pay for treatment or care. Fees range from £30-£100 per session. 

Regardless of whether you decide to see an osteopath or chiropractor. Fees vary depending on several factors and considerations: Read your guide to chiropractic prices to find out more. Although written about chiropractic prices, factors and considerations will apply to both osteopaths and chiropractors. 

How long do osteopaths and chiropractors take to work? 

This depends on several factors and considerations, which I will list here:

  • How long you have had the problem (acute, sub-acute or chronic)?
  • How it affects you day to day. What the problem is preventing you from doing this specifically and what are your personal goals for care are.  
  • The severity of the problem and any nerve, joint or bone degeneration or damage.
  • Setting the right expectations for recovery. 

There are also complicating factors to consider, which I will list below:

  •  > 5 years at the same employer, employment satisfaction and ergonomic factors like prolonged static postures, sustained lifting load, wearing high heels or repetitive work-related duties. 
  • Prior recent injury more than 6 months ago or prior surgery in the area of complaint.
  • The abnormal posture of joint motion.
  • Spinal canal stenosis or lateral stenosis (narrowing can be seen on x-ray and MRI).
  • Advanced age. 
  • Aymettry of muscle tone increased spinal flexibility or poor spinal motor control or body mechanics. 
  • Loss of the normal curves in the spine (seen on x-ray) or scoliosis (seen on x-ray). 
  • Fixated segments on flexion/extension (seen on x-ray or film)
  • Compression fractures or other fractures or slips of the vertebrae (seen on x-ray).
  • Congenitally fused segments of the spine (seen on x-ray).
  • Emotional, mental, family/relationship stress.
  • Leg length inequality.
  • Extremity pain is greater than spine pain and/or pain with radiating signs and symptoms.
  • Managing named diseases.
  • Overweight, obese or smoking.
  • One-sided sports/exercise activity or physical limitations. 
  • Osteoarthritis or pre-existing degenerative joint disease. 

All of these should be taken into consideration when taking up care. When your professional healthcare provider proposes an individual diagnosis or clinical impression, including a care or treatment plan. Factors such as time frames of healing, how much correction you'll be able to gain and the cost of investment should be discussed clearly. 

Is a referral from a doctor necessary to see an osteopath or chiropractor?

Both professions are primary healthcare providers meaning that you do not need a direct referral from your GP to go and visit one. 

Most major private health insurance providers provide some coverage towards osteopathic treatment and chiropractic care. You will need to ask your insurance company about the level of coverage available. Or whether you need to be referred for treatment first by your GP or a specialist.

So, to sum it all up: 
  1. No matter who you go to see, you will reap the BENEFITS! 
  2. Healing takes time, so make sure to BE PATIENT!  
  3. Pain is ‘’good’’ - It's your body's way of saying that something needs to CHANGE.
  4. Listen to your body… it knows what it's talking about.  
  5. Find a practitioner who you get on with, who you feel listened to, heard and understood by and who treats you in a way that suits your body. 
  6. If you do not feel comfortable with the practitioner or the way the treatment feels then you won't respond as quickly.

If you have any questions, stick them in the comments section below. Or please do not hesitate to give us a call at the clinic at 01202 684859 or email frontdesk@lifebalancechiropractic.co.uk.









The moment you believe the body can HEAL is the key to Health and Quality of Life.

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