This is a question that comes up a lot and it’s one that I find increasingly difficult to answer as I learn more about the wide range of approaches used in my own profession and in osteopathy.
There are more similarities than differences between the two professions. Chiropractors and Osteopaths both believe that many health problems are caused by poor posture and misalignment of muscles and joints. They believe that if the structure of the body can be improved and the spine put back into alignment, many problems will be alleviated and the body’s own healing mechanisms will work to restore good health. Misalignment (or ‘subluxation’ to use the chiropractic term) is usually caused by external factors, such as falls or accidents, stress, or poor posture.
Both professions use a range of manipulation, mobilization and soft tissue techniques to help their patients. It is incorrect to say that one profession uses more forceful techniques than the other as examples of lighter and firmer approaches can be found in both professions. The McTimoney style of chiropractic used at Active Chiropractic in Peterborough is an example of a low-force chiropractic technique. Both professions see a lot of the same conditions: back, neck and joint pain, muscular aches and pains, sciatica, arthritic pain, migraines and sports injuries.
In the UK, both professions are regulated by Statutory bodies: Chiropractors by the General Chiropractic Council and Osteopaths by the General Osteopathic Council. In order to be registered with these bodies, Chiropractors and Osteopaths must have undergone an accredited training course, and these courses are now at Degree-level for both professions. At the moment, Chiropractic and Osteopathy are the only ‘complementary health’ professions to have achieved this level of recognition and regulation.
It is just about possible to say that Chiropractors focus more on the spine in their approach and tend to work directly on the vertebrae with their techniques, whereas osteopaths use more indirect ‘long-lever’ approaches where they will pull on an arm or twist the whole body in order to correct its alignment, but it is very hard to generalize. Individual practitioners of Chiropractic and Osteopathy will vary greatly in their techniques and approach according to the training they have received and their own personal preferences.
Finding a Practitioner
The real question then is not which profession, but which practitioner is best for me? Find out as much as you can beforehand about how a particular practitioner works. Look at their website, talk to former patients, ask your friends and family if they have been for treatment. The biggest source of new patients for most practitioners, be they Chiropractors or Osteopaths, is personal recommendation from former patients.