What is the Difference Between a Chiropractor, Osteopath and Physio?
Choice is great but can be overwhelming. And there can be a lot of cross over between, and variations within, these professions, especially as any good practitioner will constantly develop throughout their career.
We get asked about this a lot so we hope the following guide is useful – our focus is on helping you find the best solution, whether that’s with us or with someone else.
The disciplines outlined below can be appropriate for any age and for many conditions, but do enquire directly about specialist areas of interest, if relevant, such as treating babies, children, pregnancy or specific conditions.
Primarily trained in stabilising / strengthening through prescribing exercises. This can be great if the source of your pain is due to hyper-mobility or increased mobility/weakness in certain areas. They’re also generally the first point of call post surgery. This maybe less effective if your issues stem from restricted joints and soft tissue dysfunction, in which case hands-on treatment may be more useful. For many musculo-skeletal issues, the best approach is to use both strengthening and mobilising approaches. Some physios may not be very hands-on, but many are, and do use soft tissue manipulation and other techniques so. As long as you’re getting results then you are with the right person. For more information click here.
Work “with an emphasis on treatment through manual adjustment and/or manipulation of the spine”, this is when you might hear a click or a pop. In the way that physios might focus on exercises vs hands on, chiropractors (arguably) focus on the spine vs the rest of the body, and often use a lot of manipulation which suits some more than others. Again, there will be variation in how different chiropractors work, and the most important factor is that you feel comfortable with the treatment and that you feel results. For more information click here.
Also trained primarily in ‘hands-on’ methods and work on the whole body not just the spine. Osteopaths work to mobilise areas of the body, such as with soft tissue work and joint manipulation. Some osteopaths use more subtle methods such as cranio-sacral and visceral techniques which can be great for children and babies or those who are nervous about joint manipulation, they’re also great for stress relief by encouraging the parasympathic nervous system (the rest-digest state vs fight-flight state). If joints are restricted and soft tissues under pressure, osteopathy can be really effective. Sometimes the musculoskeletal system does need stability and strengthening too, so osteopathy can work really well in conjunction with physiotherapy, unless you’re osteopath is proficient in this too. As always, make sure you’re getting results, don’t be afraid to get a second opinion! For more information click here.
Focuses on both stability-strengthening and mobilising-stretching. Everything’s Connected as part of one system comprising joints, muscles, ligaments, fascia etc. They all relate to each other reacting to forces like gravity, mass and momentum – it’s physics, really! We try to take all this into account when investigating and helping you to resolve your symptoms. We treat musculoskeletal symptoms anywhere in the body and have a specialist interest in treating chronic (long term) back problems.
Sometimes the quickest way to get results is with a multi-disciplinary approach. This depends on your issue and its causing-maintaining factors. If you do seek a multi-disciplinary approach, it’s important that the different practitioners you see communicate about your needs and your progress to make sure it’s effective and economical.
Will your problem get better by itself?
Short-term issues may well resolve without help – in which case, great! Not every little twinge needs to be fixed by a pro. Pain is the body’s way of telling you, “something needs to change”. Simply put, you may just need to do some exercise, or change your exercise, or avoid sitting down all day. If you’re not sure or nervous about upping activity levels due to injury or pain, contact me, I’m here to help.
Experiencing other symptoms with your pain?
Do seek help and advice if you’re experiencing any of the following with back or joint pain:
- a high temperature (fever)
- unexplained weight loss
- a swelling or a deformity in your back
- constant pain that doesn’t ease after lying down
- pain in your chest
- loss of bladder or bowel control
- an inability to pass urine
- numbness around your genitals, buttocks or back passage
- it’s worse at night
- it started after an accident, such as after a car accident
Don’t FEEL any progress or improvement?
It is important to feel progress. Within the first 4-6 appointments you should experience some form of change or improvement. If not, ask your practitioner about your options and the way forward. For example:
- What is their strategy for your care from now onwards?
- Is another type of treatment or a different practitioner more appropriate for you at this time?
- Should they be referring you for further investigations?
There is no one-size-fits-all panacea, no matter how holistic a practitioner tries to be. What works for one person may not work for another. It doesn’t mean your practitioner is no good, but you may need a different approach. However, they should be doing everything they can to help you get better, whether that’s with them or with someone else.
Rapport and communication
It can be very beneficial to have a good rapport with your practitioner. You should feel comfortable asking questions and they should be good at communicating what they’re doing and why, in a way that resonates with you, even if you don’t completely understand the detail. You’ll probably be better for longer if you understand the nature of your issue and it’ll help to reduce anxiety around pain, which will also aid recovery.
Chronic problem? Don’t give up
If you’ve seen a number of practitioners about an unresolved issue it doesn’t mean you can’t be helped. Approaches can vary greatly even within the same discipline and it may be that you need to explore something different.
Keep researching new options and information, consider things you haven’t yet tried.
Importantly, consider whether you are making the necessary changes so that improvement is possible. Sometimes it’s more about what you do, rather than the treatment you get. But the right support can make a big difference – any practitioner worth their salt will be happy to discuss your queries on the phone, so find out if what they say resonates with you. Get a second, or even third, opinion – especially if you’ve been recommended surgery: in most cases of non-emergency orthopaedic surgery, it is important that you have had months of physical-manual therapy (rehabilitation) before resorting to going under the knife.
Take responsibility for yourself. There are always things you can do to help yourself, such as exercise and lifestyle changes, nutrition and attitude. This should be part of the education you receive during treatment with any kind of healthcare practitioner. It is a significant part of resolving chronic problems and avoiding recurrence of acute issues.