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Physiotherapy vs Chiropractic vs Osteopathy

So what is the difference between physiotherapy, chiropractic and osteopathy?

Well the numbers are quite different for a start. There are over 2000 chiropractors, over 3600 osteopaths and over 39000 physiotherapists. Although numbers of the other professions continue to increase, physiotherapy remains the dominant profession in the UK.


Many people are not aware of the very large scope of physiotherapy practice. The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy defines physiotherapy as:

Very briefly, physiotherapy is a healthcare profession concerned with human function and movement and maximising potential. Physiotherapists work in a wide variety of health settings such as intensive care, mental illness, stroke recovery, occupational health, and care of the elderly. Physiotherapy is certainly far more than fixing musculoskeletal sports injuries although that is perhaps the most common perception of the profession.

Anyone visiting a major acute hospital will find physios working in many unexpected areas of the organisation. My own hospital has over 70 physiotherapists who work in widely differing areas such as treating incontinence, rehabilitating acute stroke patients, mobilising elderly people after fractures, removing secretions from the lungs of patients on intensive care, fitting splints or braces, practising hydrotherapy for arthritic patients, teaching hyperventilating patients to breathe more effectively and many other types of treatment.

Physios are not limited to private practice qne Physio First, the organisation of chartered physiotherapists in private practice, has 4000 members. Most work in musculoskeletal practice but some cover the many other areas of physiotherapy expertise.

Physiotherapists have also taken a growing interest in alternative medicine in search of the holistic approach, so some physios have skills in acupuncture, reflexology, craniosacral therapy and others.



The General Osteopathic Council defines osteopathy as:

Osteopathy recognises that much of the pain and disability we suffer stems from abnormalities in our body's structure and function. Osteopaths diagnose and treat problems with muscles, ligaments, nerves and joints to help the body's natural healing ability. Treatment involves gentle manipulation which can result in an audlble 'crack' which is simply the sound of gas bubbles popping in the fluid of the joints. Osteopathy does not involve the use of drugs or surgery.

Almost all osteopaths work privately in the UK and the costs of a single session vary from £25 to £50 or more, with two to six treatment sessions typically followed



The British Chiropractic Association defines chiropractic as:

Chiropractic is a primary health-care profession that specialises in the diagnosis, treatment and overall management of conditions that are due to problems with the joints, ligaments, tendons and nerves of the body, particularly those of the spine.

Treatment consists of a wide range of manipulative techniques designed to improve the function of the joints, relieving pain and muscle spasm.
Chiropractic does not involve the use of any drugs or surgery.


Chiropractic looks similar to the other professions on this definition. However, some chiropractors may attribute many what seem to be non-spinal conditions to spinal mal-alignment and adjust the spine accordingly. Chiropractors use short, high velocity thrusts in their manipulations more commonly than the other professions. 



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