Exploring the Difference Between Osteopaths and Chiropractors: A Comparative Analysis

Hello, I’m Steve Morris, an osteopath, and I’m here to shed some light on the difference between osteopaths and chiropractors – a question that we (and especially our receptionists!) get asked a lot at the clinic. While I have made an effort to provide a balanced perspective by referring to both osteopathic and chiropractic resources, it’s important to acknowledge that my professional background as an osteopath may shape my viewpoint to some extent. In the interest of fostering collaboration and ensuring a comprehensive understanding, I would welcome input from chiropractors to contribute their expertise and insights on this topic. If any chiropractors would like to collaborate on this, I believe it would greatly enhance the overall discussion and provide a more holistic perspective.

Now, let’s delve into the key distinctions between osteopaths and chiropractors. By examining their approaches, techniques, and areas of focus, we can gain a clearer understanding of how these two professions differ in their treatment philosophies. Remember, the aim here is to provide an objective overview by considering information from multiple sources.

Understanding Osteopaths and Chiropractors

In simple terms, both osteopaths and chiropractors tend to treat similar conditions with similar techniques. In the UK, both professions are statutorily regulated and have their own Acts of Parliament and General Councils.

Both osteopathy and chiropractic share a common history and philosophy that differentiates them from more traditional allopathic medical fields. Rather than focusing on the individual components of the body, osteopaths and chiropractors view the body in a more holistic manner, considering it as a self-contained, self-healing, fully interconnected unit. Case history taking and orthopedic examination are similar for both professions, and both use movement palpation to assist in diagnosing abnormalities of movement.

The main difference between the two is that chiropractors tend to focus on the spine and the alignment of vertebrae as the primary means of relieving pain and tension throughout the body. According to chiropractic theory, everyday activities can cause the vertebrae to misalign (subluxation) and interfere with the nerve messages traveling among them, leading to problems and pain. Chiropractors often rely on X-rays to determine misalignments.

Chiropractors frequently use a technique called “adjustment” to correct subluxations, where the joints in the spine are moved to produce a small ‘pop.’ The idea behind this is that adjusting the vertebrae will restore their proper alignment along the spinal column and allow optimal nerve transmission.

On the other hand, osteopaths do not use subluxation theory and tend to work more on the dynamic system of the body, aiming to restore function rather than focusing solely on the position of the vertebrae. They seek to help the body achieve a balance (homeostasis) of the skeletal, muscular, and nervous systems. Osteopaths generally do not require X-ray investigations and place more emphasis on physical examinations. If further diagnostic procedures are needed, they refer patients to other healthcare professionals.

While osteopathic manipulation consists of opening the joint surface, which is almost identical to chiropractic adjustment, it is not the sole technique used by osteopaths. Approximately 50% of patients consulting an osteopath receive manipulation, whereas about 90% of patients receive an adjustment when consulting a chiropractor.

Osteopaths use various techniques to influence the body’s innate healing system, including soft tissue work, muscle techniques, joint articulation, and mobilization. The specific treatment depends on the unique circumstances of each patient.

The length and frequency of treatment also differ between osteopaths and chiropractors. Chiropractic appointments tend to be shorter, focusing primarily on adjusting the spine, although chiropractors may also address areas other than the spine. Chiropractors often see patients more frequently because muscles connected to a misaligned vertebra can pull the bone back out of place, requiring several adjustments for the spine to settle into proper alignment.

Osteopaths, on the other hand, spend more time with each patient during visits since their focus is broader, and their treatment techniques are more varied, including exercise, postural guidance, and considerations of general lifestyle factors. Osteopathic treatment is usually spaced out over a longer period of time.

The primary objective for both osteopaths and chiropractors is to relieve aches and pains. However, they both work beyond bones, joints, and soft tissues by also influencing the nervous system and blood supply, which can have an impact on the body’s various systems. Some research evidence suggests that manual therapies, including those provided by osteopaths and chiropractors, can alleviate the symptoms of certain medical conditions such as stress, vertigo, and migraine headaches. (Reference: Effectiveness of manual therapies: the UK evidence report. Chiropractic & Osteopathy 2010, 18:3 doi:10.1186/1746-1340-18-3 Article)


Steve Morris is an Osteopath with over 30 years’ experience. He is a specialist in the field of non-surgical treatment of disc conditions, especially sciatica. He uses various different treatment mediums, from hands on osteopathy and acupuncture to the use of mechanical decompression with IDD Therapy, for which he is one of the country’s leading exponents and experts.

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