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Chiropractor vs. Osteopath: What's the Difference?

By Janet White || Published on March 4, 2024
Chiropractors focus on spinal adjustments and the nervous system to relieve pain, while osteopaths offer a broader approach, including manipulation, physical therapy, and lifestyle advice.

Key Differences

Chiropractors specialize in diagnosing and treating musculoskeletal disorders, with a primary focus on spine manipulation to correct alignment issues and support the body's natural healing abilities. They believe that spinal health is central to the overall nervous system function and thereby to general health. Osteopaths, or Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (DOs), practice a holistic approach to medical care. They are trained to perform osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT), but their scope of practice also includes prescribing medication, performing surgery, and using other medical procedures.
Both chiropractors and osteopaths use hands-on therapies to alleviate pain and improve function, but their training, philosophy, and approach to patient care differ. Chiropractic care is often sought for specific pain relief, particularly back, neck, and joint pain, and involves regular, sometimes frequent, adjustments. Osteopathy, however, treats a wider range of medical issues, including systemic conditions, and focuses on treating the whole body, not just the musculoskeletal system. Osteopaths receive medical training similar to that of allopathic doctors (MDs), which allows them to have a broader medical practice.
When considering education and practice, chiropractors receive a Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) degree, emphasizing anatomy, physiology, and spinal manipulation techniques. They are not medical doctors but go through an extensive educational program focused on chiropractic care. Osteopaths, on the other hand, earn a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree and have a medical license, enabling them to practice the full scope of medicine in the United States, similar to their MD counterparts.
Patients might choose a chiropractor for acute musculoskeletal complaints, appreciating the non-invasive nature of spinal adjustments. Those seeking an osteopath may do so for a comprehensive medical approach that integrates musculoskeletal health into overall wellness and disease prevention. Osteopaths can also provide primary care services, something chiropractors are not licensed to do.
Both chiropractors and osteopaths treat pain and improve bodily function through hands-on techniques, their training, philosophy, and breadth of practice differ significantly. Chiropractors focus on manipulating the spine to relieve pain and improve health, whereas osteopaths have a broader medical training and practice, allowing them to address a wide range of health issues holistically.

Comparison Chart


Spinal and musculoskeletal system adjustments
Holistic care of the whole body


Doctor of Chiropractic (DC)
Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO)

Practice Scope

Non-invasive musculoskeletal manipulation
Full range of medical practice, including surgery

Treatment Techniques

Spinal adjustments, physical therapy modalities
Osteopathic manipulative treatment, medication, surgery

Primary Care

Not typically
Yes, can function as primary care physicians

Chiropractor and Osteopath Definitions


A chiropractor is a healthcare professional specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal system disorders, focusing on spinal manipulation.
After injuring his back, he visited a chiropractor for relief.


Osteopaths consider the interrelation between the body's structure and function in their treatment.
The osteopath's treatment plan included dietary advice to support her overall health.


Chiropractors often treat conditions related to nerves, muscles, and joints.
He saw a chiropractor for his sciatica pain.


Osteopathic medicine focuses on preventive care and treating the whole person, not just symptoms.
My osteopath advised on stress management techniques for my overall well-being.


Chiropractors use spinal adjustments to correct alignment and relieve pain.
The chiropractor performed an adjustment to alleviate her neck pain.


Osteopaths are trained to perform surgery, prescribe medication, and use manipulative therapies.
The osteopath prescribed anti-inflammatory medication and performed OMT for his shoulder pain.


Chiropractors provide advice on posture, ergonomics, and exercises to prevent injuries.
My chiropractor recommended exercises to improve my posture.


Osteopaths can serve as primary care physicians, offering comprehensive medical care.
Her family's primary care physician is an osteopath who oversees their general health.


Chiropractic care emphasizes the body's natural healing abilities without surgery or medication.
She prefers chiropractic care for managing her chronic headaches.


An osteopath is a licensed physician who practices a whole-body approach to healthcare, including osteopathic manipulative treatment.
She consulted an osteopath for her digestive issues.


A system of health care that focuses on disorders of the musculoskeletal system and nervous system and their effects on overall health. The method of treatment usually involves manipulation of the spinal column and other body structures.


Usage Problem A licensed physician trained in a school of osteopathic medicine. Not in technical use.


A health-care practitioner who specializes in chiropractic, the hands on or hand-held instrumental movement of the bone structure of the body to improve the function of the joints or nervous system.


In the United Kingdom and some other countries, a skilled practitioner of osteopathic manual techniques who is not a physician.


A therapist who practics chiropractic.


(alternative medicine) A non-physician healthcare practitioner who practices osteopathy by manipulating the skeleton and muscles. Not to be confused with Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) (also known as osteopathic physicians) who are full physicians like Doctors of Medicine (M.D.).


A therapist who practices chiropractic


A practitioner of osteopathy.


A therapist who manipulates the skeleton and muscles


Can chiropractors prescribe medication?

No, chiropractors cannot prescribe medication; their treatment is based on manual adjustments and therapies.

Can osteopaths perform surgery?

Yes, osteopaths are fully licensed physicians who can perform surgery and prescribe medication.

Can I see a chiropractor for headaches?

Yes, chiropractors can treat headaches, especially if they are related to musculoskeletal issues.

What is an osteopath?

A licensed physician practicing a holistic approach to medical care, including manipulative treatment, with a full scope of medical services.

What conditions do chiropractors treat?

Chiropractors primarily treat conditions related to the spine, nerves, and musculoskeletal system, such as back pain and joint issues.

How do chiropractors and osteopaths treat back pain?

Chiropractors use spinal adjustments, while osteopaths use a range of treatments including manipulative therapy, medication, and surgery if needed.

How often should I visit a chiropractor?

It depends on your condition; some require frequent visits for acute pain, while others may benefit from regular maintenance visits.

Are osteopaths recognized as doctors?

Yes, osteopaths are recognized as fully licensed physicians in many countries, including the United States.

What is a chiropractor?

A healthcare professional focusing on diagnosing and treating musculoskeletal disorders, primarily through spinal adjustments.

What's the difference in education between a chiropractor and an osteopath?

Chiropractors earn a Doctor of Chiropractic degree, focusing on chiropractic care. Osteopaths earn a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree, with training similar to medical doctors.

Do osteopaths have specializations?

Yes, osteopaths can specialize in various fields of medicine, such as pediatrics, internal medicine, or surgery.

What is osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT)?

A set of hands-on techniques used by osteopaths to diagnose, treat, and prevent illness or injury.

Can chiropractors help with sciatica?

Yes, chiropractic treatment can be effective for sciatica by relieving pressure on the sciatic nerve.

Can osteopaths and chiropractors work together?

Yes, they can collaborate to provide comprehensive care, especially for complex musculoskeletal conditions.

How do I choose between a chiropractor and an osteopath?

Consider your specific health needs, whether you prefer a focus on spinal manipulation or a broader medical approach.

Is osteopathy the same as chiropractic?

No, they are different professions with different scopes of practice and philosophies, despite some overlap in treatment techniques.

What should I expect during my first visit to a chiropractor?

An assessment of your medical history, a physical examination, possibly X-rays, and a treatment plan that may include spinal adjustments.

Are osteopathic treatments covered by insurance?

In many cases, yes, but coverage varies by insurance plan and country.

Are the treatments offered by chiropractors and osteopaths evidence-based?

Both professions use evidence-based practices, though the extent and type of evidence supporting each treatment can vary.

What should I expect during my first visit to an osteopath?

A comprehensive medical history review, physical examination, diagnosis, and a treatment plan that may include medication, surgery, or manipulative therapy.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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