This is actually quite a difficult question to answer.
There are historical differences but really all the patient wants to know is who to turn to for help. My clients will know that I have built up relationships with professionals that I know, like and trust. The osteopaths I mainly work with are people that I have been treated by, so I know they are good. It was Sam McInerney http://www.osteocrawley.co.uk that mentored me through my back pain specialist training and because of her work schedule and mine I now see David Such at K2 www.davidsuch.com as I can rest after treatment. Both are excellent osteopaths and have served me and my clients very well. So if you need advice please ask me. I suggest different practitioners depending on people’s problems, so it might be that I suggest physiotherapy and for that discipline, I suggest Alex Page. That’s not to say that there are not other great practitioners in the area.
I have been treated by chiropractors and osteopaths so my opinion can only be based on my own experiences.
The real answer is that there is a huge variance in the ways that individuals, within both professions, practice.
Some chiropractors practice more like an osteopath and visa verse.
The major difference between an Osteopath and a Chiropractor as far as I can see it is that while the chiropractor is primarily focused on the spine and joints (and the muscles too, to a point), an Osteopath is also concerned with the rest of the body. He or she might treat patients with all sort of problems that might not seem related to the spine or joints. My osteopath regularly works on my ankle and I have witnessed people being treated for planter fasciitis and shoulder problems by osteopaths. Massage is often used and trigger point releases, muscles energy techniques to release tight muscles and where necessary ‘dry needling (acupuncture). Rehabilitation exercises are often given via demonstration and with printed sheets where necessary.
Typically chiropractors will use what they call “Adjustments”, which are as specific as possible and aimed at restoring joint position and function. A lot of their work focusses on the spine and subluxations (slippages). They believe that the slippage causes a diminished flow in the electrical flow along the nerves to the organs and this is like using a dimmer switch and thus reducing function at the endpoint. Their consultations are often shorter than half an hour and quite frequent. They may at the outset tell you how many consultations you are going to need. PLEASE NOTE THIS IS BASED ON MY OWN EXPERIENCES AND I KNOW SOME CHIROPRACTORS WILL PRACTICE MORE LIKE OSTEOPATHS. I know when I was seeing a chiropractor I was told that I would need to be seen three times a week for x number of week and then twice a week again for a suggested number of weeks then onto once a week and then a maintenance programme. Osteopaths typically take a broader approach and may treat a larger area. Certainly, the osteopaths I work with will only see you as often as is necessary. To be honest they are very busy so don’t need to block places with unnecessary appointments as there are other people to accommodate.
At the start of my treatment by a chiropractor, I had X-Rays taken of my spine and had a full examination. I was not examined again for several weeks. I was brought in and laid on a couch with several other people in the room. I remained fully clothed and the chiropractor asked me how I was when I was face down on the couch. The spinal adjustments (a lot of ‘cracking’) were made in several positions before I was released to walk up and down. The whole consultation was over very quickly. Sometimes some pressure points (kinesiology) was used and muscle strength tested. I did not receive a massage or dry needling (acupuncture) and because I feel a lot of my problems were muscular I did not feel it was the right approach of treatment for me. Follow up X-Rays did though show some improvement, particularly in my neck.
This was my experience with the chiropractor I saw but I don’t think that is how they all work. There are others in the town that will give half-hour appointments and treat you in a room alone. Some chiropractors use the McTimoney approach which is very gentle and use swift, light force adjustments, which makes it a comfortable treatment to receive.
Personally, I now gravitate to Osteopathy. When I see an Osteopath I strip me down to my underwear but I know it’s acceptable to wear shorts and a top if people are more comfortable like that. I know they like to observe my movement to check for imbalances to plan the treatment that day and I’m quite comfortable with them. Generally, the treatment lasts 1/2 hour. It involves for me a lot of muscle energy techniques to release tight muscles, some massage and at times dry needling (acupuncture) has been used. Trigger point therapy is also used. I find they will only see me as often as is necessary. I must say that since I have been practising ‘Trigger Point Pilates’ – the extended work with the spiky balls and foam rollers my visits have greatly reduced. I have though punished my body over the years and schedule in regular visits rather than the alternative which would be a sports massage.
I only speak from my own experience here and I know some of my clients are very happy with the treatment they have received from their Chiropractors. As I say I know some chiropractors practice very differently from the way I have described. I think you find something that works for you and if you have confidence in that practitioner you tend to stay with them.
So it doesn’t matter what the differences are.
As long as you get:
An effective consultation in which you get to express yourself and an effective case history is taken
An effective clinical examination and an accurate clinical diagnosis are reached (so that you are treated for the right things).
Effective treatment for your condition with effective management over the long term if needed
Rehabilitation exercises that start at the right place, are evidence-based and progress effectively
Effective advice regarding your activity, life or sport.
Then you have found the right place, the right clinic and the right practitioner regardless of the profession.