Physical Therapy, Chiropractic, and Osteopathy: What’s the Difference?

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Manual therapy is a branch of medicine that helps patients regain muscle and skeletal movement usually after a debilitating incident. Therapists knead and manipulate the joints and limbs to stimulate feeling and treat musculoskeletal pain.

Patients can also go to occupational therapists, massage therapists, chiropractors, physicians, osteopaths, and athletic trainers for manual therapy. However, these health professionals specialize in different methods of therapy that target different aspects of the body.

Chiropractic Care

The core focus of chiropractic care is the diagnosis and correction of the musculoskeletal system, particularly the spine. Chiropractors use hands-on manipulation to restore mobility in joints affected by a painful event, such as a fall, crash, repetitive stress, or poor posture.

Patients usually use chiropractic care as a pain relief for muscles, bones, joints, and connective tissues like tendons, ligaments, and cartilage. Like other methods of manual therapy, chiropractic care is usually in conjunction with conventional medical treatment.

Out of the three methods, chiropractic is the most joint-specific one. Chiropractors manipulate the joints to restore mobility, thus improving flexibility and reducing pain.

Since they target the spine, chiropractic treatments are usually for lower back pain. However, chiropractors can also use this method to treat patients after a surgery or an incapacitating injury from incidents like a car accident. So residents in Utah, which is facing a rise in motorcycle accidents and deaths, have the option to go to an auto accident chiropractor in Orem, or elsewhere in the State, when the unthinkable happens.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy (PT) or physiotherapy, on the other hand, aims to rehabilitate mobility and movement usually after an injury, surgery, accident, or a stroke. Physical therapists use their knowledge in anatomy and physiology to assess the musculoskeletal condition of the body.

Although PT commonly treats sports injuries and back and neck pain, physiotherapists can also help premature babies improve their gross motor skills. PT also eases conditions that disrupt the nervous system, so physical therapists can help patients recover from stroke and brain and spinal cord damage. People with conditions, like Parkinson’s disease, osteoporosis, and arthritis can also undergo physical therapy to improve strength and flexibility and decrease pain and stiffness.

Treatments typically use a hands-on, therapeutic soft tissue massage technique, joint manipulation, and systematic exercise involving neuromuscular training.


Osteopathy is very similar to chiropractic care. Osteopathic doctors also treat the body’s aches and pains using a series of hands-on techniques, such as therapeutic massage and the manipulation of muscles, joints, tendons, and ligaments.

Osteopathy revolves around a whole-body philosophy, which means they look at the collective function of the bodily systems and the relationships of the organs with each other. This helps osteopathic doctors determine how the various parts of the body impact the affected area. For example, when treating a sore knee, an osteopathic doctor may also take a look at the ankles, pelvis, and back. The specialist may also ask about the patient’s medical history and other factors that don’t seem directly related to the injury.

Osteopath checking patient's motor skills

An osteopath observes a patient’s motor skills and posture to determine which parts are healthy and which need correcting. After, the doctor will create a treatment plan and determine if osteopathic treatment is appropriate for the patient’s condition.

Unlike a chiropractor, osteopathic doctors are knowledgeable in general medicine as well, so they’re qualified to prescribe medication and surgical methods that complement the manual therapy.

These manual therapy methods are meant to be in conjunction with conventional medical treatment. Consult a physician to determine which method is the most suitable for your condition and will best complement your medication, so you’ll be well on your way to recovery.

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