What’s the Difference Between an Osteopath & a Chiropractor?

In a sense, osteopaths were here first. While both professions, osteopathy and chiropractic, arose in the late 19th century, it was in 1874 that Andrew Taylor Still developed the science of osteopathy. It wasn’t until 1895 that DD Palmer made the first chiropractic adjustment and developed the science of chiropractic.

While the philosophies of the two fields were originally slightly different, they both share the basic concept of manipulating the joints of the spine and body so as to improve the health of the patient. In modern times, the two fields have diverged as osteopaths in the United States have expanded their profession to include medical training and a medical license. As a result, in the United States osteopaths are full physicians in the same way as medical doctors are.

Meanwhile, chiropractors have continued to emphasize primarily joint manipulation, or “adjustments”, as chiropractors prefer to call our treatment.

Given the wider scope of practice that osteopaths now have, how much each individual osteopath actually performs joint manipulation varies widely. Some osteopaths perform virtually none while for other osteopaths that is their primary practice. In my practice, I have found that because of their background most osteopaths tend to be more open to alternative medicine than the average medical doctor.

The type of manipulation performed by osteopaths also varies from that of chiropractic. Since both fields evolved separately they have developed different techniques for accomplishing the same thing. Specifically, mobilizing and realigning the joints of the body. I do find that chiropractors have more varied techniques and do use instrument adjusting more than osteopaths. For me, as an instrument adjuster, this is a key difference.

While not medical physicians in the way osteopaths have become, chiropractors have also moved into other aspects of healthcare. Many chiropractors have additional training and certifications in nutrition, neurology and exercise. But the vast majority still perform adjustments as the primary part of their practice.

Personally, I have found it best to focus my practice on helping patients by adjusting the joints. I have made it a point to hone my skills and perfect my technique in that area. I will advise patients on nutrition and give them home exercises/stretches. But for a larger exploration of those issues I find it best to send the patient to another practitioner such as a nutritionist or personal trainer that specializes in that area.. In that way I’m not spread between fields.

Thus, perhaps the key difference between the two fields in modern times is that chiropractic has continued the tradition of specializing in joint manipulation/adjusting more so than the field of osteopathy.