In simple terms, both Osteopaths and Chiropractors tend to treat similar conditions with similar techniques, especially in Britain, where the two evolved along parallel but converging paths. In general Chiropractors tend to concentrate on the spine for their diagnosis and treatment. Osteopaths always consider the spine but also the contribution of the muscular and joint systems.
What is the difference between an Osteopath and a Chiropractor?
Rather than focusing on the individual components of the body, Osteopaths and Chiropractors view the body in a more holistic manner, as a self-contained, self-healing, fully interconnected unit. The first proponent of this philosophy, Andrew Taylor Still, is credited with founding Osteopathy in America in 1874. Just twenty-one years later, a former student of Dr. Still, Daniel David Palmer, founded the Chiropractic discipline.
The philosophical and practical differences between Osteopaths and Chiropractors
The differences between Osteopathy and Chiropractic stem from a rather subtle variance in philosophy. Osteopaths subscribe to two maxims based on the concept of the body as a unique interdependent system. The first, ‘the rule of the artery is supreme,’ means that a healthy blood supply is likely to support a healthy bodily environment. Thus, Osteopaths take circulation carefully into account when assessing patients. The second axiom, ‘structure governs function,’ concerns the fact that problems in the structure of the body, for example, too much mechanical stress on the musculoskeletal system, can inhibit the natural function of multiple bodily systems. Though the root of the word ‘osteopath’ means ‘bone,’ Osteopaths do not actually treat bones. Rather, they use the bones as levers to motion and mobility to the musculoskeletal system. By treating these structures, Osteopaths can aid the body’s natural healing ability.
Chiropractors, on the other hand, tend to focus on the spine and the alignment of vertebrae as the primary means to relieving pain and tension throughout the body. The spine consists of the vertebrae, which are bone segments that protect the spinal cord, and the individual nerve branches stemming from it. These nerve branches exit between the bones, conveying important messages between the brain and the rest of the body. Because the vertebrae shift and move with everyday activity, they can ‘misalign’ and interfere with the nerve messages travelling among them. It is thought this interference causes problems, and frequently pain, throughout the body.
The primary objective for both Osteopaths and Chiropractors is, most frequently, to relieve aches and pain. However, Osteopaths also treat a broader range of functional problems, such as disorders of the respiratory or digestive systems. Both Osteopaths and Chiropractors treat more than just bones joints and soft tissues. By working with the nervous system and blood supply they are able to influence all of the bodies systems, making them capable of alleviating the symptoms of a number of diagnosed medical conditions, such as; asthma, stress, digestive disorders, period pain, migraine and many more.
How do these differences between Osteopaths and Chiropractors affect patients?
In many cases, patient experiences with Osteopaths and Chiropractors will be very similar; however, there are some differences. When diagnosing patients, Osteopaths and Chiropractors both use visual inspection (observation) and palpation (touch). Chiropractors frequently rely on more diagnostic procedures, such as X-rays. Osteopaths tend to place more emphasis on the physical examination and will generally refer patients on for more diagnostic procedures if required.
Osteopaths employ a number of techniques in order to influence the body’s innate healing system. These include; soft tissue, muscle work, joint articulation and mobilisation/manipulation.The specific treatment will depend upon the patient’s unique circumstances, manipulation has the effect of freeing up any adhesions and encouraging better movement, it has a secondary, but very useful analgesic effect (pain relief).
In contrast, Chiropractors tend to concentrate on influencing the nervous system by employing a technique called “adjustment,”. The actual technique is similar to that of Osteopathic manipulation. The Chiropractic theory is that adjusting the vertebrae will allow it to return to its proper alignment along the spinal column and permit optimal nerve transmission.
The length of treatment also typically varies between Osteopaths and Chiropractors. In general, Chiropractic appointments tend to be shorter as the practitioner focuses on adjusting the spine (this does not mean to say that Chiropractors don’t adjust areas other than the spine). However, Chiropractors tend also to see patients more frequently. Osteopaths tend to spend more time with a patient per visit, as their focus is somewhat broader and their treatment techniques are more varied. In my practice I encourage the patient to undertake self help exercises and management techniques so they continue to improve while at home.
There are a huge number of variations between individual practitioners of both disciplines, from what they focus on to how they apply treatment. Each Chiopractor and each Oteopath is an individual with his or her own unique style of practice, and it is important for a patient to find a practice that fits his or her unique needs.