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Chiropractor Or Osteopath: Who Should You See?

chiropractor or osteopath

Some people choose to see a chiropractor or osteopath for their back pain. Both types of doctors believe that having a healthy spine is very important for the overall health and integrity of the entire body.

But there are some fundamental differences as well. Before choosing which professional to see, it is helpful to understand how the two are similar, and how they are different.


The discipline of chiropractic care was founded in 1895. Chiropractors focus on paying attention to biomechanics. They believe the structure of the spine, and how well it functions, affects the musculoskeletal and neurological system.

Chiropractors treat pain (and sometimes other problems) by manipulating the spine. They make “adjustments” to put the spine back into alignment. Chiropractors believe that if the spine is in proper alignment, the body will be able to heal itself. Chiropractors are not medically trained, and they do not prescribe medications.


Osteopathy was founded in the 1870s. It focuses on the relationship between the musculoskeletal system and overall health. According to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, “Osteopathic medicine is a distinctive form of medical care founded on the philosophy that all body systems are interrelated and dependent upon one another for good health.”

Both osteopaths trained in America and European osteopaths call themselves DOs. However, American-trained osteopaths are Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine, while European practitioners have a Diploma of Osteopathy. American-trained osteopaths can prescribe medications and have full medical practice rights both in the United States and in 44 other countries. Osteopaths that have a Diploma of Osteopathy cannot prescribe medication but mostly focus on spinal manipulation techniques.

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A chiropractor or osteopath will have the same philosophy that spinal health influences your overall health. They believe that working on the spine optimizes the operation of the nervous system and improves blood flow to body systems. To accomplish this, they manipulate joints and sometimes massage muscles and tissue.

Their primary goal is to relieve aches and pains in the body. They sometimes have secondary goals such as addressing problems with circulation, digestion, or headaches. Their diagnosis process mainly involves observing and touching the back.



Chiropractors mainly focus on the alignment of the spine. They believe this relieves pain by preventing pinched nerves or any other compromise of the nervous system. Osteopaths, on the other hand, look more at the whole body and focus on its structure.

Osteopaths tend to treat a broader range of disorders, while most chiropractors focus on muscle and joint pain.

Chiropractors often make use of tests such as x-rays and MRI scans. Some even have x-ray machines in their office. Osteopaths rely more on their own physical examination and generally refer patients out if they feel more diagnostic procedures are required.  

Osteopaths usually use a greater variety of techniques to manipulate the body’s healing systems. They may do more muscle and soft tissue work or manipulate other joints in the body. Chiropractors mainly focus on adjustments to the vertebrae of the spine.

As far as appointment length, chiropractic visits tend to be shorter. They focus on getting the patient adjusted and then back out the door. Osteopaths may spend more time talking to their patient since they have a broader approach. This also means that chiropractors may see patients more frequently, while osteopaths spread their treatments out more.

Making a Decision

Deciding to see a chiropractor or osteopath is a personal choice. You have to think about what problem you are hoping to address and then decide which type of practitioner might best treat it. How complicated is your problem? Is it mostly with your back, or are you having trouble with other joints and tissues as well? Based on these answers, choose the practitioner that seems to be the best fit.


Author:  Annie Beth Donahue is a professional writer with a health and disability focus. You can find her at


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