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Whats the difference between an osteopath and a chiropractor?

What's the difference between an osteopath and a chiropractor?

This is a question that I get asked a lot. Whilst there are some unrepeatable industry in-jokes about the difference between the two professions, here is (hopefully) a more balanced explanation.

To start with, both professions emerged out of America at about the same time. Osteopathy was founded in 1874 by Andrew Taylor Still and Chiropractic was founded by Daniel David Palmer in 1895. Whilst there has always been a healthy debate about which profession is a derivative of the other, I like to think that the dates speak for themselves. Just saying.

In terms of reaching the UK, osteopathy reached the Britain in 1913 followed by the establishment of the first training college, The British School of Osteopathy in 1917. This was where I trained, graduating in 2002, although the college has since changed its name to University College of Osteopathy for some bizarre reason. The first Chiropractic association was set up in 1922, but there were apparently chiropractors working in the UK before World War 1.

Overall, osteopaths and chiropractors are very similar in that they are both alternative healthcare practitioners who use manual therapy to diagnose and treat musculoskeletal conditions, but there are some minor differences between the two professions.

Osteopathy is a system of healthcare that focuses on the musculoskeletal system and the body's natural ability to heal itself. In particular, osteopathy regards blood flow as being paramount to successful healing. Osteopaths use a range of manual techniques, such as soft tissue massage, joint mobilisation, and manipulation, to restore balance and function to the body. Osteopaths also consider factors such as lifestyle, diet, and emotional wellbeing when treating patients.

Chiropractic is a healthcare profession that focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal disorders, particularly those affecting the spine. Chiropractors use manual techniques, such as spinal manipulation and mobilisation, to restore alignment and function to the spine and other joints in the body. Chiropractors tend to focus more on the nervous system and its relationship to the musculoskeletal system. A feature of some, but not all chiropractors is their use of X-rays in diagnosing problems and their use of various devices in their treatments. e.g. ‘activators’.

In terms of education, in the UK osteopaths and chiropractors have similar training requirements, both completing a four to five-year degree program which includes both theoretical and practical training.

For osteopaths, training courses generally lead to a bachelor’s degree in osteopathy (A BSc Hons, BOst or BOst Med) or a masters degree (MOst). Courses usually consist of four years of full-time training, five years part-time or a mixture of full or part-time. There are also courses with accelerated pathways for doctors and physiotherapists.

A degree course includes anatomy, physiology, pathology, pharmacology, nutrition and biomechanics, plus at least 1,000 hours of clinical training. There are currently 9 UK institutions accredited to provide osteopathic training.

Whilst there is undoubtedly some longstanding rivalry between the two professions, I personally regard chiropractors as being kindred (alternative healthcare) spirits and I genuinely have a high regard for their technical skills.

Ultimately, for patients the choice between osteopathy or chiropractic may simply depend on your personal preference, the personality of the practitioner and their individual experience and training. The fact that both professions continue to thrive despite patients being able to access free treatment via the NHS, is testimony to both their effectiveness and popularity.

Come and see me to discuss the difference between osteopaths and chiropractors at Osteostudio in Ashurst Wood, East Grinstead.

Cliff Russell, Registered Osteopath, East Grinstead.

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Author: Cliff Russell - Registered Osteopath

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