What’s the difference between Osteopathy, Physiotherapy and Chiropractic?

difference between osteopathy physiotherapy chiropractic Whats the difference between Osteopathy, Physiotherapy and Chiropractic?

If I had a dollar for every time I was asked that question, I could retire to the country and live off the interest. Most patients at some point during the course of their treatment ask this question, so instead of repeating myself constantly I thought  I’d put it on the blog so that I could refer them to it from now on.

Just to note, I will try to give an unbiased description, however I am an Osteopath and therefore my answers cannot be truly objective.


Osteopathy is holistic manual therapy that can help with a wide range of acute and chronic conditions of the musculoskeletal and visceral systems of the body.

Osteopathy uses detailed anatomical, physiological and clinical knowledge, coupled with keen observation and palpatory skills. The osteopath will combine a detailed health case history with a thorough physical examination to diagnose the patient’s condition and treat it. The patient’s lifestyle, diet, work and leisure activities are also taken into account.

The osteopath doesn’t treat a painful back, stomach or knee, but a body as a whole unit that is suffering an injury, and must be treated in an integrated holistic manner to return to good balance and function. For example, can an injured knee be treated conclusively without addressing the biomechanics of the ankle, hip, pelvis and back? The osteopath’s aim is to not only provide symptomatic relief, but also address the underlying causes of the current injury as well as preventing any further re-occurrence.

Osteopathic treatment combines joint mobilisation and manipulation – with work on muscles, ligament and other soft tissue using a variety of techniques, as well as gentle work on visceral structures when required.

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Physiotherapy is the largest and most commonly known ‘manual therapy’ in Australia as physios work in both the private and public health systems.

Physiotherapists specialise in the treatment and rehabilitation of acute and chronic joint injuries, often using a variety of prescribed therapeutic exercises that the patient carries out at home. Physios also frequently use machines such as TENS or ultrasound as part of their treatment approach.

In the public health system the diagnosis and treatment requests tending to emanate from an orthopaedic surgeon, consultant rheumatologist etc.  As a result, treatment will also tend to be more specific than holistic.

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The origins of chiropractic are close to osteopathy, as the first chiropractor was a student of the founder of osteopathy. In fact, in some instances, one would be hard-pressed to distinguish between the treatment provided by a good chiropractor or osteopath. However, a large proportion of chiropractors still only treat by using manipulation of vertebrae to normalise spinal position and effect the function of the underlying nerve roots.

Chiropractic treatment plans are often based on regular manipulation for a set number of sessions in order to correct a disorder. Chiropractors also often use x-ray imaging to aid diagnosis. These x-rays will often be conducted in the clinic as part of the course of treatment.

Click here to learn more about Chiropractic

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