To an outside observer, the practice of osteopaths and chiropractic medicine may appear to be almost identical. However, there are significant differences which can impact the medical care which an individual can experience. The short answer is that there are many differences between chiropractors and osteopath’s but a more complete answer must take into consideration the fundamental concepts which underlie each particular practice.
A doctor of osteopathy is a fully licensed medical professional who is trained as an M.D. and specializes in aspects of practice which include osteopathic manipulative treatment. This is skill of manipulative treatment is covered in an extra 350 hours of training that involves applying a precise amount of force to muscles and joints that theoretically promote normal movement of body fluids and engage the body’s natural healing abilities.
Doctors of osteopathy have the ability to write prescriptions, order tests and if they choose to, some specialize in surgery or engage in women’s health issues. For the most part approximately 65% of graduating doctors of osteopathy choose to practice in primary care.
In a 1999 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine researchers found that people who suffered from chronic lower back pain and were treated by a doctor of osteopathy needed less medication and experienced the same amount of pain reduction and improvement in range of motion as those individuals who received pain medication and physical therapy. Treatments with osteopathic manipulative treatment modalities are used for almost anything including chronic conditions like pain, migraines and infection since the treatments can boost the immune system and improve bodily fluid drainage. (1)
In addition to the manipulative treatments used by osteopaths, they can also include stretching, pressure and cranial osteopathy which focuses on motion in the cranial bones. All of these modalities involve subtle adjustments to improve the fluid mechanics and overall health of the individual.
While doctors of osteopathy have the ability to use a wide range of modalities for treatment doctors of chiropractic medicine focus more closely on the motion of the spine. When they attend school chiropractors have the ability to go through one of two branches, or schools of thought, and chiropractic medicine. These branches are differentiated between limited therapeutic approach for aches and pains which is commonly termed a mixed chiropractic or a non-therapeutic approach which is often termed straight chiropractic because there is no mixing of chiropractic medicine with anything else.
The mixed chiropractic approach is a slightly older one while the non-therapeutic straight chiropractic medicine is the more modern of the two. Non-therapeutic chiropractic medicine deals most commonly with the key roles of subluxation. Because the spine is made up of many different bones segments and the smaller spinal nerve branches come off of the spinal cord and exit between these bones there are times when the spinal segments are out of place and affect nerve messages which exit the spinal cord.
These misalignments are often called subluxations and results in an interference with messages and, ultimately, the ability of the person to function at their very best. The objective of a non-therapeutic straight chiropractor is to check the spine or subluxations and safely correct those so that the individual can operate at their optimal potential and the body an attempt to heal itself.
Which ever medical practitioner you choose your medical care you should identify and be clear about your particular goal when approaching this practitioner. By understanding your needs and your desire for future medical care you can adequately choose between a doctor of osteopathy who may be able to help you with all of your medical concerns versus a chiropractor who may be excellent in helping century a dislocated back.
(1) New England Journal of Medicine: A Comparison of Osteopathic Spinal Manipulation with Standard Care for Patients with Low Back Pain
BioMedCentral MusculoSkeletal Disorders: Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment for Low Back Pain
Cleveland Clinic: Low Back Pain
Cleveland Clinic: Osteopathic Manipulation for Low Back Pain