Physiotherapy, Chiropractic or Osteopathy: What’s the Difference?
Tony Beecroft, November 2016
Are you in pain and considering physiotherapy but a friend suggests you see their chiropractor while your mother insists on a visit to an osteopath? Their suggestions are well-meaning. All professions aim to ease you of your pain and help your body work better with their own philosophies, techniques and focus.
The Difference Between Physiotherapy, Chiropractic and Osteopathy
Professions of the three occupations all intend to completely eliminate your body aches and improve your wellbeing, whether it be physiotherapy, chiropractic or osteopathy. The difference between them lies in their target areas, methods and the underlying principles of how the body should function and adherence to current medical and scientific evidence.
How Does Physiotherapy Help?
The main purpose of physiotherapy is to improve body mobility via a multitude of treatments to the musculoskeletal system, founded on the latest evidence based research available. The methods aim is to reduce damage, pain and stiffness, whilst assisting to improve general musculoskeletal function. This includes the rehabilitation of injuries and movement disorders. Most often, physios treat problems with posture, muscle pain, sports injuries and post-surgery rehabilitation. There are physiotherapists with special interest in treating a range of other issues including:
- People with diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease or diabetes.
- Individuals who recently suffered from a stroke that has affected their motor skills.
- People with spinal cord injuries.
- Body systems such as neurological, musculoskeletal and respiratory systems to improve mobility.
- Rehabilitation for people suffering from asthma or heart disease.
- Women’s health issues such as pregnancy problems, post-partum care and loss of bladder control.
- Men who currently have or are in the process of recovering from prostate cancer.
Physiotherapists use methods such as therapeutic exercise, dry needling, stretching, massage and more. Common tools they use are needles, tape, ice and mostly their bare hands for precise musculoskeletal physio treatment. Many of these specialists cater to athletes, promoting the industry’s advocacy for an active lifestyle. Often, they recommend different forms of exercises to their patients to treat mobility issues, the majority of which you can do on your own, at home.
Sports physiotherapy is a branch that focuses mainly on treating sports injuries. Because of the higher stress level placed on athletes’ bodies, treatment requires specialised care compared to other physical injuries. The physios at Melbourne Sports Physiotherapy target all musculoskeletal injuries.
The core belief of chiropractic is that body should be able to give the right response stimuli for its environment. The basis of treatment is founded on traditional medicine and has very limited medical evidence for its effectiveness. Chiropractors have a technique called “adjustment” that they use to enhance your body movements, usually done on the spine and bodily extremities. They have a method called the Gentle Activator which is a form of treatment that can be applied without the cracking of joints. Whilst there is no solid medical evidence that this is effective, it remains a popular treatment choice.
They have a holistic view of the body and how health issues should be treated. While sharing strong similarities with chiropractic, osteopathy gives more emphasis on the soft tissues of the body.
Osteopaths also employ techniques such as stretching, massaging, and pressure points, methods also used in physiotherapy. As with professionals in the previously mentioned fields, osteopaths tend not to resort to medicine and surgery, unless definitely required.
The common ground for all three professions is specialists in these fields believe that the body should be treated with natural methods where possible, and then seek orthopaedic or pharmacological interventions when appropriate. These industries avoid the use of invasive methods of treatment and use techniques that encourage the body to heal on its own with natural assistance. If you suffer from an injury that can be treated by a therapist of either profession, then your choice would depend on the type of treatment you’d be most comfortable with. All specialists are required by the law (AHPRA) to be licensed to operate, which can only be attained after completing the necessary degree in their respective fields.
For more in-depth information on sports physiotherapy, please contact the clinic or schedule a consultation with your local physiotherapist.