During my 18 years working as a chiropractor I have noticed that a number of people become emotionally attached to one or other of the Professions. Some people being vehemently anti or pro one or the other of us. I have always been slightly baffled by these attitudes. That said, most people just have a healthy curiosity so “what is the difference” is a question I am frequently asked.
Having discussed and reflected much on the question with osteopath Mike Garrett we have concluded that there are more similarities than differences.
The terms Chiropractor and Osteopath are the titles of our profession they do not describe the techniques we use. They are both diverse professions. Making it difficult to say what a ‘typical’ chiropractor or osteopath would do. The differences between the 2 professions are in our founding histories.
The differences are largely in our histories
Both Chiropractic and Osteopathy were founded in the 1890’s in the United States of America. This was a time when the physicians of orthodox medicine were using blood letting, blistering, purgatives (compounds of mercury, antimony and other mineral poisons) and tonics (arsenical compounds).
Osteopathy was founded by Andrew Taylor Still. He saw the human body as a highly complex machine which, like any other machine, required proper alignment and lubrication for optimal functioning. When working correctly the body was optimised to heal itself. Proper alignment was brought about through methods of spinal and muscle manipulation.
(Further reading http://www.osteopathiepraktijk.be/en/what-is-osteopathy/history-principles-osteopathy/)
Daniel David Palmer, the founder of chiropractic believed that “innate intelligence” (a spiritual life force) flowed from the brain to the rest of the body through the spinal cord and peripheral nerves. He argued that spinal ‘subluxations’ (small misalignments in the spine that compress the spinal nerves) disrupted the flow of innate intelligence and caused disease. Hence, chiropractors used spinal manipulation to correct the ’subluxations’ so allowing ‘innate’ to flow and the body to heal itself.
(Further reading https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/210354)
Both professions followed a turbulent political path with much opposition from the medical profession. That now is history.
Education, Registration and Evidence Based Medicine
Both Osteopaths and Chiropractors study for 4-5 years. I undertook a 4 year course to earn a Batchelor of Human Science degree followed by a 1 year course to earn a Master of Science in Chiropractic. Subjects included anatomy, physiology, nutrition, histology, pathology, clinical examination and diagnosis. There is particular emphasis on examination, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of musculoskeletal disorders.
Chiropractic is regulated by the General Chiropractic Council , Osteopaths are regulated by the General Osteopathic Council – The purpose of the councils is to protect chiropractic patients and the public by maintaining a register of chiropractors and osteopaths and setting standards of care.
Evidence based medicine requires decisions about treatment for a patient to be made on the basis of the most up-to-date, solid, reliable, scientific evidence in combination with the experience of those in the profession and the wishes of the patient. As both chiropractors and osteopaths practice evidence based medicine and both treat musculoskeletal disorders it inevitably means that much of what we do must be the same.
Long gone are the days of discord between chiropractors, osteopaths, physiotherapists and medical doctors. As all of us are thoroughly educated, registered and practicing evidence based medicine there is mutual respect and cooperation. Frequently the professions collaborate to ensure the best possible patient care. Interdisciplinary teams involving each these professions work in occupational health, sports medicine and rehabilitation centres.
What makes us so similar?
We take a similar approach to caring for our patients/clients. That is we treat holistically, considering the whole person not just the area of pain someone is complaining of. We pay particular attention to the symmetry of the body. Often our focus begins with the pelvis and the spine these being the foundations from which symmetrical alignment comes. We use spinal manipulation, these techniques form the roots of our professions. The techniques used vary between individual chiropractors and individual osteopaths. We all develop our own styles and interests as we continue our post-graduate studying. Often influenced by our own life experiences and interests. Many osteopaths and chiropractors practice cranial therapy but not all.