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What is the difference between physiotherapy, osteopathy and chiropractic?


Osteopaths, chiropractors and physiotherapists are all regulated health professions, requiring practitioners to train to degree level, and then to maintain their clinical skills and professional standards. Whilst all three techniques involve manual therapy, they are all based on very different schools of thought and their approach to patients is different.

The body, as we all know, has the capability to repair itself, and osteopathy is based on this principle.  As primary healthcare professionals, osteopaths have a broad base of training, allowing them to diagnose, treat and advise upon a wide range of conditions.  An osteopath will work to help your body return to normal function, using techniques such as movement, stretching, manipulation or deep tissue massage to help achieve the best outcome.

Osteopathic sessions tend to be gentle, often longer and usually involve more treatment of the soft tissues, eg muscles and ligaments, using therapeutic massage and stretching techniques alongside the manipulation.


Chiropractors have a similar approach to osteopathy but they focus on the spine and nervous system, often basing treatment on radiography and radiology reports.  They don’t do as much work on muscles and tend to use a quite different method of manipulation which some people may find more forceful.


Physiotherapy have a very broad based training and tend to be more experienced in working with people who have had operations or need exercise and rehabilitation to restore their normal function.  If you do see a physiotherapist, make sure to check their speciality so that it suits your needs. Osteopaths tend to use a more hands-on and individualised approach to assessing and treating patients compared to physiotherapists. Osteopaths will seek to understand their patient in the context of their lifestyle, firstly by taking a full case history, and then using a combination of skilled observation and palpation to feel how well the body, including the muscles and joints, is functioning.  These all form an intrinsic part of developing a personalised treatment plan.

Some osteopaths specialise in many of the same areas as physiotherapists including breathing mechanics, rehabilitation and sports injuries.

Practitioners of all three disciplines vary in their treatment approaches and post qualification training, and may specialise in the treatment of specific patient groups or conditions. When seeking treatment you should discuss your symptoms and concerns with the practitioner, and be sure that their skills and treatment style will suit you.