A free explanation of an Osteopath, Physiotherapist and a Chiropractor. Part 1.

osteopath, chiropractor, physiotherapist

A free explanation of an Osteopath, Physiotherapist and a Chiropractor. What is the difference? Part 1.

Osteopaths, Physiotherapists and Chiropractors are primary healthcare professionals that are treating primarily the same thing; musculoskeletal conditions. This can be any symptom related to the soft tissues such as the tendons, ligaments, bones and muscles. The history, philosophies of them are slightly different, however. In short, this is not straight forward so it does require a long answer. It also depends on the experience and extra-curricular qualifications of the practitioner as for example some train and work with other professions after graduation and some of the techniques used for example are similar in all the professions anyway.

Therefore, there will be a crossover between practitioners as some Osteopaths will work more similarly to Physio’s and vice versa. Due to this, I advise you to check the experience and qualifications of the practitioner before deciding on who is most suitable for you. Hopefully after reading this article you will be able to better decide for yourself also. I will explain each of their histories, philosophies and the differences between them.


Osteopathy was founded in the 1800’s by Andrew Taylor Still who was a Physician and a Surgeon. He was born and grew up in Kirksville, Missouri, USA. Still quickly discovered that to achieve optimal health, all systems in the body had to work harmoniously together. He did this by using minimal surgeries and medicines of which at that time were rather harmful. It was documented he treated various conditions from infection of the intestines to arthritis to sciatica with varying results. However, over time he became known as an excellent practitioner and patients attended from all over America to Kirksville for treatment.

An Osteopaths’ philosophy is that the body is a unit and has the capability for self-healing and by helping this process they can promote restoration of normal functions. They believe that the structure of the body’s soft tissues such as bones, tendons, ligaments, muscles and organs are vital to the way the body functions. They use a variety of techniques such as manipulation, soft tissue massage, stretching, mobilising, prescribing exercise and giving advice on lifestyle and postural education. They are found mainly in private practice although there are a small amount working for the NHS in certain trusts.


Physiotherapy was originally founded by a Swedish gymnast called Per Henrick Ling who was known as the “father of gymnastics”. He founded the Royal Institute of Gymnastics in 1813 for massage, manipulation and exercise. Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare gave physical therapists official recognition in 1887, which triggered other countries to follow suit. It was toward the end of the nineteenth century when modern physical therapy was established. These physical therapy treatments were promoted and applied during the outbreak of polio in 1916. Physiotherapy was institutionalised during the First World War, providing physical therapy to help treat the injuries that the soldiers suffered from.

Physiotherapy is a science that primarily deals with physical medicine and rehabilitation.  Physiotherapists regularly work alongside doctors and surgeons in the NHS and have many disciplines other than musculoskeletal. They can be in neurology, respiratory and neurological settings. Many are working privately however, and historically they would work in NHS settings “on rotation” gaining experience in different wards first, although this does not always happen nowadays. Their treatment incorporates the use of mechanical movements and exercises to help promote function, mobility and quality of life.


Chiropractors are primary healthcare practitioners that specialise in musculoskeletal disorders that are as a result of mechanical dysfunctions primarily of the neck and back. Their founder was a man called Robert Palmer who was a student of the founder of Osteopathy Andrew Taylor Still. He created his own school named Chiropractic originating from the Greek words “cheiros” and “praktikos” meaning “done by hand” in 1896. He developed and taught his own unique style of spinal manipulation and it came to fruition when in 1985 he adjusted the back of a man who was deaf and improved his hearing.

Similarly like Osteopaths they use spinal manipulations as a form of treatment alongside other modalities and are found mainly in private practice also. In practice generally speaking their appointments are shorter but more regular than others but this can differ depending on the individual Chiropractor. In the modern day, they treat all musculoskeletal conditions, but the major bulk of their practice is the treatment of back and neck pain, again very much like Osteopaths.

To conclude you can see that there are lots of similarities between all three professions but with some subtle differences. In a later post I will explain my experiences with them and what I see as being the main differences and similarities.

Sal Alu (B.Ost)








Leach, Robert (2004). The Chiropractic Theories: A Textbook of Scientific Research. Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins. p. 15. ISBN 0683307479.