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Chiropractors & Osteopaths: Differences & Similarities
Posted on: 30/07/2012 @ 1:00pm



What is the difference between Chiropractic & Osteopathy. This is one of the most frequently asked questions that I get asked at the Chiropractic clinic here in Ashford. This question has been answered many times, interestingly, in many ways, some of them, unfortunately, not always complimentary to one or the other profession. In the UK, Chiropractic and Osteopathy are very similar disciplines, with a large portion of their workload being very similar. For all their similarities they have the ability to behave like vampires and werewolves, in that they commonly don’t seem to mix and are always ready to tear each other apart. So let’s look at the historic foundations of these professions to see why they are so similar and if there is any reason for all that animosity.


Now Chiropractors and Osteopaths didn’t just create manipulative therapy from thin air. It has been around for at least two and a half millennia. As early as the fourth century B.C., Hippocrates was using joint manipulation and traction techniques. However, the therapy was abandoned a couple of centuries ago by orthodox medical practitioners (along with the Hippocratic Oath – first do no harm) but was still used as a folk specialty by uneducated bonesetters. It is unclear why this occurred but it is thought it was probably due to a lack of knowledge and a fear of spreading diseases such as syphilis by using hands-on techniques such as manipulation. 


Both Chiropractic & Osteopathy  were founded in the late 19th century Midwestern America. Osteopathy was founded by Andrew Taylor Still in 1864, preceding Chiropractic by approximately 20 years. Still apparently became disillusioned with orthodox medicine after the death of his 3 children from meningitis. He opened the American School of Osteopathy in Kirksville, Missouri.


He based the philosophy of the school on two main principles -:

  • ‘The rule of the artery is supreme,’ meaning a healthy blood supply should support a healthy body. Therefore circulation is taken into account when an Osteopath assesses a patient.
  • ‘Structure governs function,’ if structure is altered by muscle spasm which can also alter alignment of joints; this could inhibit the natural function of multiple bodily functions.


Despite Still’s dislike for orthodox medicine, by the 1860’s, Osteopathy had become integrated into mainstream North American medicine. In the States, the main difference between seeing a Medical Doctor and an Osteopath is the initials MD and DO after their names. Therefore, the use of manipulative therapies by Osteopaths in the US has fallen into less common use. However, here in the UK, Osteopaths have stayed true to their roots and still use manipulative techniques originally used by Still.


Daniel David Palmer, the founder of  Chiropractic, believed that health problems could be prevented by using ‘adjustments’ of the spine or other joints to correct ‘subluxations’ which was a term he used for misalignments of the joints. BJ Palmer, DD Palmers son, proposed that these misaligned vertebrae caused nerve compression that interfered with the nervous system. Because the nervous system controls every aspect of our bodily functions, he proposed, alleviations of these ‘subluxations’ allowed the body to return to full health.


Chiropractic & Osteopathy also share common beliefs in their philosophies which set them apart from orthodox medicine:

  • The body as a unit has an inherent ability to heal itself.
  • Structure and function are interrelated.
  • When normal adaptability is disrupted, disease can develop.
  • The musculoskeletal system is central to the well being of the organism.
  • Preventive strategies, including good nutrition and exercise, are important to maintain well-being.



In the U.K. both are statutorily regulated with their own Acts of Parliament and their own Councils, the General Chiropractic Council (GCC) or the General Osteopathic Council (GOC); much the same way as medicine is governed by the General Medical Council (GMC). This means it is illegal to practice as either a Chiropractor or an Osteopath without being registered with their respected council, either the GCC or GOC. This in turn guarantees the practitioner is educated to an approved Chiropractic or Osteopathic standard, qualifying with either a Bachelor or Masters Degree in their chosen profession; they will also have current professional indemnity insurance and must follow a code of practice and standard of proficiency dictated by their individual professional council.

In addition to their government regulated degree course, both professions are required to attend Continued Professional Development (CPD) courses and study each year. Each practitioner can choose what they would like to study which is usually based on their personal interest or passion and can greatly impact on the way the practitioner assesses and treats his or her patients.


Patient Examination and Diagnosis

Both professions take a case history followed by an examination including observation, palpation, and range of motion assessment, orthopaedic and neurological tests. Chiropractors tend to use X-rays more than Osteopaths do; perhaps because Chiropractors are trained to not only read X-rays but also to take them.

Chiropractors, by law, according to their code of practice, must give a patient a diagnosis, treatment plan and prognosis. I believe that the Osteopathic Council is not as heavy handed as the Chiropractic Council and therefore, even though Osteopaths also give a diagnosis it is not illegal for them not to do so.



Both professions make use of manipulation techniques. Some stats state that 50% of patients consulting an Osteopath receive manipulation whereas approximately 90% of patients consulting a Chiropractor receive manipulation.

The Ashford Chiropractor

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