What Is The Difference Between: Chiropractors; Osteopaths; And Physiotherapists?

In general terms, there is a difference between Chiropractors, Osteopaths, and Physiotherapists in their approach, techniques, and goals for their patients. This blog post will briefly describe all three, however the descriptions come with a proviso of understanding that: all three aim to enhance the natural healing of a patients presenting complaint; each profession has strengths for different symptoms; and, there is much variation within each profession from the descriptions given here.

So – what is the difference between a Chiro, Osteo, and a Physio in regards to what they do, why they do it, and how they do it?


Chiropractors focus on the treatment of the pelvis, spine, and nerve system. They (I should say we, as I am one) believe that most dysfunction of the body is caused by interference of the messages coming through the nerve system. For example, back pain may be caused by irritation to the nerves that exit the lower back. However, those same nerves also control other functions within the body such as leg or bladder muscles. Chiropractors know that by taking the pressure off the nerves, not only is your back pain likely to go away but your legs will be stronger, and maybe a child will stop bed wetting. How do Chiropractors deliver treatment?

Chiropractors deliver a quick shallow thrust (called a Chiropractic adjustment) to the spine or pelvis that takes pressure and irritation off the nerves. The Chiropractic adjustment will often give immediate relief, however, due to the constant strain on the human spine, multiple adjustments are required to maintain the healthy condition of the joints and nerves.Maintaining the health of your spine and nerves will not only help reduce painful episodes but also help the client to function at their best. Chiropractors aim to reduce pain quickly, stabilise joints, and maintain the patients’ health with regular check-ups. This is commonly referred to as a wellness strategy.


Unlike Chiropractors focus on the nerve system and spine, Osteopaths treat the joints and muscles of the whole body. Osteopaths recognise the connectedness of the whole body and the role of the circulatory and nerve system, and deliver treatment to reduce tension in muscles, tendons, and ligaments, through ‘hands-on’ techniques that promote greater fluid flow and joint function. There is a wide range of Osteopathic techniques used for treatment, including: cranial therapy; soft-tissue therapy; fascial release techniques; and joint manipulations. Many people see Osteopaths for just specific joint injuries and some people will see their Osteopath in a routine program to maintain a healthy lifestyle. The wide range of treatment approaches, coupled with the many treatment techniques, often result in great results from your Osteopathic treatment even though you may have a different experience between Osteopathic practitioners.


In comparison to Chiropractors and Osteopaths, Physios focus on specific injured joints and apply treatment only to the muscles, ligaments and tendons (MLT) that are involved in the function of that joint. For example, knee pain is likely to be treated in regard to the MLT around the knee, where a Chiropractor and Osteopath would widen their focus to consider the function of the ankle, pelvis and spine. Physio’s offer a different approach (than Chiropractors or Osteopaths) to treatment by the use of technology such as: tens machines (electrical stimulus to the muscles), laser treatment, and ultrasound, and by application of: heat, needles, and strapping, and finally through hands-on therapy. Often the objective of the physio is to restore structure and function to the joint and return the patient back to pre-injury fitness. This often involves a return to sports and activities and explains why many sports teams are associated with a local/travelling physiotherapist.

In closing, it is important to remember the above descriptions are generalised and all practitioners will have their bias to which techniques they prefer or believe are most effective. Additionally, the right practitioner to see will depend on the type and site of injury plus your preference for treatment techniques and follow up philosophy. Finally, a great practitioner is a great practitioner regardless of their named profession.

I hope this has helped you.

For a shameless plug, please don’t hesitate to contact us for a free spinal examination with me (Dr Matt Short – Dr of Chiropractic) and I will be happy to answer any further questions you may have.

Dr Matt Short – Dr of Chiropractic, PG.Dip Musculoskeletal Management (Otago)