Osteopathy and chiropractic share a common origin and although the two disciplines are superficially similar, they have quite different underlying philosophies. However, in practical terms osteopathy, chiropractic and also physiotherapy (a branch of conventional medicine) treat the same sort of musculoskeletal conditions. There is considerable overlap between the working styles of practitioners from the three different disciplines, and also considerable variation between practitioners within the same discipline.
Broadly speaking the initial consultations will be similar with practitioners from all three disciplines, involving a detailed case history, physical examination of the patient, their standing posture and the way they move, and a series of clinical tests to aid diagnosis and to help establish that the patient is suitable for treatment. The nature of the treatments are rather different:
Osteopathic treatment is usually made up of massage of the soft tissues, stretches and rhythmical movements of the joints, and short corrective manipulations of the joints of the spine and/or the limbs (causing the pops and crunches for which we are known). Treatments with an osteopath are generally about half an hour duration and patients are usually seen approximately weekly in the initial phase of treatment.
Treatments with a chiropractor are usually shorter – 10 or 15 minutes – and comprise mainly spinal adjustments (pops and crunches again). Chiropractors generally see their patients more often – twice or three times a week in the initial stages.
Physiotherapy treatment tends to be more based around exercise therapy, self help and rehabilitation. Many physios with a special interest in musculoskeletal medicine will also have studied manipulative techniques (more pops and crunches). Physio treatments in the private sector tend to be at approximately weekly intervals.
However the distinction is not clear-cut as every practitioner works differently. All practitioners will prescribe exercises to help in your recovery and you may be also be offered other treatment such as acupuncture or offered taping, supports, insoles, supplements etc if your practitioner feels it may be of help.
All these treatment approaches have been shown to be safe and effective and it can sometimes be difficult for patients to decide which treatment to choose. Often it is best to talk to your friends – who do they see? And make sure that when you do go to see someone, that you feel comfortable with them, feel listened to, cared for and that you like them as a person.