A question often asked to Complementary and Alternative Medical (CAM) practitioners by both first-time and returning patients is: ‘What are the differences and similarities between Osteopathy, Chiropractic and Physiotherapy?’
This article will consider this question by first referring to definitions of each the three therapies, and then look at the similarities and differences.
Osteopathy is a primary healthcare profession, concentrating on the diagnosis, treatment, prevention and rehabilitation of musculoskeletal (MSK) disorders, and their effects on the patient’s general health. Osteopathy is a type of alternative medicine that emphasises massage and other physical manipulation of muscle tissue and bones. Its name derives from Ancient Greek “bone” and “sensitive to” or “responding to”. As it is a form of drug-free non-invasive manual medicine, an Osteopath focuses on total body health by treating and strengthening the musculoskeletal framework, which includes the joints, muscles and the spine. Its aim is to positively affect the body’s nervous, circulatory and lymphatic systems; restoring the optimal functioning of the body, based on the principle that the body is its own ‘medicine chest’ and that all parts of the body functioning together in an integrated manner.
If one part of the body is restricted, then the rest of the body must adapt and compensate for this, eventually leading to inflammation, pain, stiffness and other health conditions. By considering symptoms in the context of the patient’s full medical history, as well as their lifestyle and personal circumstances, a holistic Osteopathic approach ensures that all treatment is tailored to the individual patient.
Chiropractic is also a primary healthcare profession and a form of alternative medicine concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of mechanical disorders of the musculoskeletal system, especially the spine, under the belief that such a disorder affects general health via the nervous system. The main chiropractic treatment technique involves manual therapy, especially spinal manipulation therapy (SMT), and may also include exercises and health and lifestyle counselling. Chiropractors use specific manipulations to free joints in the spine or other areas of the body that are not moving properly, and give patients advice on exercise, self-help, diet and lifestyle. Chiropractors regularly promote rehabilitation programmes and provide advice on posture.
Physical therapy or physiotherapy (often abbreviated to PT) is a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialty and a primary healthcare profession. Physiotherapy helps to restore movement and function when someone is affected by injury, illness or disability. It aims to reduce the risk of injury or illness in the future through movement and exercise, manual therapy, education and advice; maintaining overall health and helping patients to manage pain and prevent disease.
Physiotherapy uses mechanical force and movements, remediates impairments and promotes mobility, function, and quality of life through examination, diagnosis, prognosis, and physical intervention. It is performed by physical therapists (known as physiotherapists in many countries).
Physiotherapists encourage development and facilitate recovery in a range of healthcare settings, such as intensive care, mental health, neurology, chronic conditions, occupational health and care of the elderly. They help to treat physical problems associated with a number of the body’s systems, including the MSK, neuromuscular, cardiovascular and respiratory systems. In addition to clinical practice, other activities encompassed in the physical therapy profession include research, education, consultation, and administration. Physical therapy services are often provided alongside, or in conjunction with, other medical services.