What’s the difference between a chiropractor, an osteopath and a physiotherapist?  It sounds like the opening line of a joke; but it’s a question many people ask.  If you turn to the different professional bodies and read the definition of each, you’ll be no further forward.  But, feel free..

osteopath

chiropractor

physiotherapist

In essence, the members of all 3 professions tend to concentrate on helping people with muscular and skeletal problems.  The definitions are so similar that it’s difficult to tell them apart.  However, if you ask people who have been to see all 3 (I have) – a pattern emerges.  These are generalisations, and will not apply well to a number of individual practitioners.

  • Physiotherapists tend to prescribe more in the way of exercise.  Many of them use more electrotherapy than osteos or chiros do.  They are less “hands on”.
  • Chiropractors do a lot of “manipulation” (clicking and cracking), and less in the way of exercise prescription.
  • Osteopaths are somewhere in the middle!

That’s the general difference.   BUT, if you ask “Which one should I see”, I would say

  1. Check that the practitioner is registered with the General Chiropractic Council, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy or the General Osteopathic Council.
  2. Get a recommendation.  This is generally the best way to choose; if one of your friends/family highly recommends a registered practitioner, then there’s a good chance you’ll get on with him/her too.  If you can’t get a recommendation then…
  3. Look online for a practitioner who is sharing advice and information and empowering prospective patients.
  4. Contact the practitioner and ask to have a chat before committing to an appointment.  Any caring practitioner will be happy to have a telephone conversation or email exchange to help to reassure you that he or she is likely to be able to help.

Remember that the above are generalisations, and as a GP friend of mine said when he researched this question for the Scottish Executive 20 years ago “There are more differences within each profession than there are between them”!  So, find someone who works for you, and stick with them!