Back or neck pain: Osteopath or Chropractor?

Due to the very high number of hours we all spend in sedentary activities, and the increasing level of daily stress we have to cope with, the health issues related to back and neck pain are becoming epidemic. After an initial short term fix based on regular use/abuse of painkillers and anti inflammatory drugs, most patients start searching for a more durable approach at treating what are often chronic conditions. Invariably they end up visiting a Chiropractor or an Osteopath, with no clear idea of what is the difference and who suits them best.

Here are few hints about differences and common grounds.

Both disciplines require a degree level qualification and are regulated. In UK Osteopathy and Chiropractic are both governed by their own act of parliament and each have their own regulatory body – General Osteopathic Council (GOC) or General Chiropractic Council (GCC).
Both treat musculo-skeletal/biomechanical problems (i.e. backs, necks, feet, hips, knees etc) and the underlying causes. This requires thorough evaluation of the whole skeletal frame and it’s posture, using orthopaedic and neurological examination skills, similar to those of traditional medical practitioners. Both osteopaths and chiropractors use manual medicine to treat a person. This means they will use predominantly hands-on techniques or external electrical therapeutic machines like ultrasound, interferential therapy or laser therapy . They will all teach patients a variety of exercises to be carried out at home to reinforce their care between treatment sessions.

Although Osteopaths and Chiropractors are very similar, they are each derived from independent schools of thought and the main differences lie in treatment styles.

Osteopaths, having completed a thorough examination and arrived at a diagnosis, use a range of techniques including gentle soft tissue techniques (massage, stretching, muscle energy, inhibition etc) through gentle joint mobilisation, through to the more powerful manipulation known as high velocity thrust or HVT. There is also cranial osteopathy which is a very different subtle and gentle technique. Each session with an osteopath would typically be 45 minutes for the first treatment and consultation and 30 minutes for each follow up. In addition to treatment there will aslo be advice on lifestyle issues, injury avoidance, posture and exercises given.

Chiropractors tend to use quick thrust, short lever spinal manipulation techniques. Chiropractors like to term this, an adjustment. This means to click your lower back the would place their hands on that spot where movement is needed. Osteopaths and certain physiotherapist trained in post-graduate manipulation techniques will do the same.
Chiropractors might also use what are termed low force techniques with an instrument spinal manipulation tool like the activator. The aim is still to provide the quick thrust movement with a lower force than used with a hands on manipulation. You won’t hear the typical joint clicking sound with this type of manipulation.
Chiropractors are trained to take and read x-rays which may be appropriate in cases such as trauma or pathology.

Anyway, the most important aspect is to find a practitioner you trust and feel comfortable with, because a positive the doctor/patient relationship is the base of any healing process.