Chiropractic, Physiotherapy, Osteopath: What are the differences?


To the uninitiated, these three treatment methods may sound awfully similar. Some may even think that they are the same! While all of them deals with your musculoskeletal system, each of the disciplines focuses on is what differentiates them.

What is chiropractic?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), “Chiropractic is a health care profession concerned with the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disorders of the neuromusculoskeletal system and the effects of these disorders on general health. There is an emphasis on manual techniques, including joint adjustment and/or manipulation, with a particular focus on the subluxation.”

Singapore Chiropractic for Adults

In simple terms, chiropractic diagnoses for and treat neuromuscular disorders through the manual, non-invasive adjustment and manipulation of the spine. This means that a chiropractic treatment does not involve the use of medicine or the need for you to go under the knife (although in severe cases, we will refer our patients to our trusted partners). It is considered a safe alternative treatment, where controlled force is applied to joints to restore musculoskeletal function and mobility.

Fundamental belief

Chiropractors believe that a misalignment in the spine can affect the nervous system, which may cascade into a series of problems for the individual. Therefore, the treatments are targeted at restoring the spine’s natural structure, so as to relieve pressure on sensitive neurological tissues and improve the patient’s health.

What is osteopathy?

We’re no expert when it comes to osteopathy, but based on our understanding, osteopathy shares many similarities with chiropractic. Both disciplines believe that the ailments in your body can be traced back to structural issues in your body, which affect certain bodily functions.

hand message for back osteopathy

The difference lies in the area of focus. While chiropractic focuses on the spine, osteopathy aims to relieve aches and pains and restore general well-being through examining your skeleton, joints, muscles, nerves, blood circulation, connective tissues and internal organs. Just like the other two disciplines, osteopathy uses non-invasive, manual (though not necessarily the same) techniques, such as myofascial release, soft tissue manipulation, massages and stretches.

Fundamental belief

Osteopaths believe that all parts of your body are linked in some ways and if one part is not functioning well, it could affect other functions within your body. The treatments aim to identify the root of the issue (which may not seem directly involved in the problem), treat it and then tap on the body’s natural ability to heal to restore normal body functions.

What is physiotherapy?

Physiotherapy also diagnoses and treat musculoskeletal issues through non-invasive, manual treatments. But that’s about all the similarities.

While chiropractic focuses on the spine and osteopathy focuses on how different body systems work together, physiotherapy focuses on the musculoskeletal system. The treatments not only aim to treat injuries and reduce aches and pains, there is also an emphasis on rehabilitation and injury prevention.

patient walk in physiotherapy session with crutches

Let’s say you’ve torn your rotator cuff during a workout. After the surgery, the muscles in your rotator cuff starts to atrophy. Without rehabilitation, even if your rotator cuff is fully healed, chances of you injuring it again are high. This is where physiotherapy comes in. As a way to speed up the post-surgery recovery, physiotherapists help you rehabilitate the muscles, speeding up the recovery while minimising the atrophy. When you’re fully recovered, you’ll be able to get back to your routine quickly with minimum injury risk.

Physiotherapy uses techniques similar to the other two disciplines, such as massages and stretches. The differences are that physiotherapists do not manipulate the joints out of their range of motion, and, here’s the key difference, they sometimes deploy active treatment, such as muscular contraction and exercises.

Fundamental belief

Physiotherapists believe that injuries are a result of muscular imbalance. Such an imbalance pulls your joints out of alignment, making you vulnerable to injuries. Hence the treatments focus on bringing balance back to the muscular system, strengthening the antagonistic muscles to pull the joints back to their natural position, improving your posture and reducing your chances of injuries.

Working together

On the surface, the treatments may seem similar to each other, but each of them has their area of focus that can actually complement each other. In other words, combining the treatments can speed up the recovery process and prevent a relapse. 

Wouldn’t it be great if you could get back to your normal activities as soon as possible with a lower risk of injuries? Let us know!

Featured image by Jesper Aggergaard on Unsplash

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash and by Pexels

Dr. Jenny Li

Dr. Jenny Li
Founding Chiropractor at Singapore Pain Solutions

Dr. Jenny Li is America trained chiropractor who specialises in sports injury, sports performance, and spinal health. She graduated from Palmer College of Chiropractic in United States, upon completion of the her post graduate program she practiced in Hong Kong and currently is practicing in Singapore.

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