Four Ways a Chiropractor Is Different From an Osteopath

To the casual observer, a chiropractor and an osteopath may seem very similar. The practice of each can involve manual manipulation of different areas of the body to promote healing. However, a closer look reveals that not only are osteopaths and chiropractors not the same thing, they have less in common with one another than their names would suggest. Here are some of the most important ways that chiropractors and osteopaths differ.

1. Education

A doctor of osteopathy goes to medical school and gets a degree that is equivalent to that of a medical doctor. His or her education involves instruction on all aspects of traditional medicine, including performing surgery. An osteopath’s education involves serving a residency as a doctor in training. Upon completion of his or her education, a DO has the authority and qualification to perform surgery and prescribe medication.

Though holding an advanced degree, a chiropractor is not a medical doctor. Chiropractors receive their postgraduate education at a special school of chiropractic, where they earn their four-year doctor of chiropractic degree. The philosophy behind chiropractic is natural, noninvasive healing. Therefore, DCs do not learn to perform surgery and cannot prescribe medications. Although chiropractors do not serve a residency, they do spend at least one year of their training working directly with patients before taking the national board exam to become licensed.

2. Training

All DOs receive training in osteopathic manipulation, which is the art of using one’s hands in disease prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. However, not all osteopaths use manipulation in their practice, preferring surgery and other traditional medical practices.

Manual manipulation, which can also involve the use of handheld tools, is essential to the chiropractor’s training and eventual practice. However, chiropractors also make use of diagnostic methods such as X-rays.

3. Scope

Chiropractic treatment tends to focus primarily on the musculoskeletal system of the body. Doctors of chiropractic are most likely to perform manipulations on the joints of the body, particularly those between the bones of the spine. Osteopathic medicine is based on a holistic philosophy that believes that all parts of the body work together, and that a problem in one system can negatively affect the others. Therefore, they may choose to practice in many different specialties.

4. Approach

The purpose of chiropractic manipulation is to correct the subluxation of a joint. Therefore, the movements tend to be sharp and forceful, though safe and not painful for the patient. In comparison, osteopathic manipulation tends to be more gentle and subtle.

Because osteopaths and chiropractors are so different, it is not a question of which is “better.” Rather, it is a question of what is more appropriate for your specific situation.