Updated: Jan 25
Many of us at some point in their life experience aches and pain from a non-life threatening health issue. Whether it’s neck pain from slouching at your desk day in and day out or back pain from slipping on a patch of ice. When the pain persists, it's time to take action, but the question arises - who is the best professional to see? Do you make an appointment with a Chiropractor or an Osteopath?
What exactly is the difference between osteopathic medicine and chiropractic medicine? To help guide you to the provider best suited for you, let's start at the beginning and unpack the similarities and differences between osteopathic medicine and chiropractic medicine.
What is a Chiropractor?
A chiropractor is a medical professional who focuses on the spine and nervous system and their effect on the whole body.
Chiropractors are not medical doctors, however they go through extensive medical training. The Doctor of Chiropractic degree is usually a four-year program on top of three years of undergraduate study.
The nervous system controls and regulates how all of the cells, tissues and organs function in the body and is protected by the spine. Misalignments in the spine can pinch and put pressure on the nerves causing pain and the inability to perform optimally. Chiropractors make adjustments to the misalignment of the spine which then allow the body to heal.
Chiropractors tend to focus on natural remedies and usually don’t recommend surgery or prescriptions.
What is an Osteopath?
An osteopath is a doctor that specializes in the physical manipulation of the tissues, bones and muscles. Similar to a chiropractor, osteopaths take a holistic approach and view the body as a whole, understanding that pain in one area could be originating from another area of the body.
Osteopathic doctors follow much of the same path as traditional doctors when it comes to schooling. Pre-med classes, four years of medical school and residency are required to become a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.). Like traditional doctors, a D.O. can prescribe medicine and make referrals for surgical procedures.
With their holistic approach and focus on the musculoskeletal system they use a
series of hands-on techniques to help diagnose illness or injury and facilitate the body's natural tendency toward self-healing.
Treatments Performed by a Chiropractor and Osteopath
Chiropractic treatments can vary depending on the nature and severity of a person's condition. Prior to any treatment they will perform an evaluation of your neurological and physical issues before providing a treatment plan. Common forms of treatment include:
Chiropractic adjustment - During an adjustment, the chiropractor applies force to a specific area of the body in order to correct a misalignment (called a subluxation) of a particular joint.
Flexion distraction - This technique uses a specialized table to flex your lower spine. This gentle stretch helps to “plump up” the intervertebral discs and reduce pain.
Electrical stimulation - E-stim machines use electricity to stimulate muscle contraction, increasing circulation and reducing inflammation. E-stim procedures are not painful; most patients typically feel a “buzzing” or tingling sensation.
Manual therapy - Manual therapy is a form of therapy where clinicians use their hands to achieve desired results for their patients instead of using devices or machines.
An Osteopathic Doctor will first begin with assessing the patient's habits, stress level, other medical problems, nutrition, and physical fitness before beginning a treatment plan. The aim of osteopathic manipulation is to improve pain, range of motion, and function. Common osteopathic manipulation techniques include:
Articulation - Moving the joints to increase range of motion.
Counterstrain - Helps alleviate tender or trigger points.
Muscle energy -Strengthens weak muscles and relaxes tight muscles.
Myofascial release -Stretches muscle tissues to reduce muscle tightness and pain.
Thrust treats- Joint motion loss by moving the joint against its resistance
To recap, a chiropractor uses manipulative techniques to adjust your spine and joint position to improve nerve function and the ability to heal.
Osteopaths use massages, manipulation and stretching to help re-balance the body’s structure to enhance nerve function and blood flow.
How to Choose an Osteopath or Chiropractor
There are several factors to consider when choosing a new health care provider. When choosing between an osteopath or a chiropractor the type of treatment is key.
An osteopath is a licensed physician who can practice in any area of medicine and uses their medical degree and training to provide healthcare for the whole person. DOs listen to and partner with their patients. Osteopathic medicine focuses on prevention and wellbeing of the mind, body, and spirit.
A chiropractor uses their extensive training to provide treatment to help align the spine which, in turn, can reduce pain or provide relief from other ailments. Chiropractors focus on the musculoskeletal system and how the whole body is connected.
Regardless of the type of professional you pick it is good to get recommendations from friends and family. You may also consider a consultation prior to moving forward with treatment. In both situations you will be working closely with them. Both osteopaths and chiropractors when performing treatments will be touching you. You need to be comfortable with the person.
Our team at Couve Health are movement experts and work under the guidance of our chiropractors. Our goal is not only to get you back to performing at your optimum, it is also to make sure you are comfortable and in control of your treatments. If you are uncertain what type of professionals to seek out please get in touch and we can help guide you to the best provider based on your individual needs.