Chiropractor vs. Osteopath: Similarities and Differences

by | May 18, 2023 | 0 comments

7 min read

Amelia had been struggling with persistent lower back and neck pain for months, and the discomfort was starting to take a toll on her daily life. She knew she needed professional help but was unsure whether to seek treatment from a chiropractor or an osteopath. After researching both fields, she found that each had its unique approach to addressing musculoskeletal issues.

Amelia was determined to make an informed decision, weighing the philosophies, treatment methods, and scope of chiropractic and osteopathy to determine which healthcare professional would be best suited to help her achieve pain relief and improve her well-being.

We’re here to answer Amelia’s questions and help you understand the differences between chiropractic and osteopathic physicians!

What Do “Osteopathic” and “Chiropractic” Mean?

“Osteopathic” and “chiropractic” are terms used to describe two distinct medical professions focusing on diagnosing, treating, and preventing musculoskeletal disorders. These Ancient Greek terms convey the underlying philosophy and approach of each profession.

The term “osteopathic” comes from the Greek words “osteon,” meaning bone, and “pathos,” meaning suffering. Osteopathy is based on the philosophy that the whole body is an interconnected unit, and disruptions in one part can affect the whole system. Osteopaths consider the musculoskeletal, circulatory, and nervous systems in their treatments, emphasizing the body’s ability to self-heal and self-regulate.

The term “chiropractic” is derived from the Greek words “cheir,” meaning hand, and “praxis,” meaning practice or action. It reflects the profession’s emphasis on using hands-on techniques to restore proper alignment and function to the spine. Chiropractic is rooted in the belief that spinal misalignments interfere with the nervous system, leading to various health issues. Chiropractors primarily focus on the spine, using adjustments to correct misalignments.

Chiropractor and patient

While both osteopathic and chiropractic medicine emphasize the importance of the musculoskeletal system in overall health, their philosophies are distinct. Osteopathy takes a more holistic approach, considering the body as an integrated unit, while chiropractors focus primarily on the spine and its relationship with the nerves.

What are the Differences Between a Chiropractor and an Osteopath?

Chiropractors and osteopaths are both healthcare professionals who specialize in treating musculoskeletal disorders but differ in terms of education, philosophy, and treatment approach.


Chiropractors complete a Doctor of Chiropractic degree (DC), which typically takes 4 years of study after completing an undergraduate degree. The program focuses on spinal adjustment techniques, anatomy, physiology, and nutrition.

Osteopaths obtain a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree, which also requires 4 years of study after an undergraduate degree. Their training is more similar to that of a medical doctor (MD), with an emphasis on osteopathic principles and practices.


Chiropractic treatment is rooted in the belief that misalignments in the spine (called subluxations) cause interferences in the nervous system, leading to various health issues. Chiropractors primarily focus on the spine, using adjustments to restore proper alignment and function.

Osteopathy follows the creed that the body is an integrated unit and that disruptions in one part can affect the whole system. Osteopaths consider the musculoskeletal, circulatory, and nervous systems holistically in their treatments, emphasizing the body’s self-healing abilities.

Treatment Approach

Chiropractors predominantly use spinal manipulations or adjustments to correct misalignments and improve nervous system function. They may also employ other therapies such as massage, ultrasound, and electrical muscle stimulation.

Osteopaths use a broader range of manual techniques, including soft tissue manipulation, joint mobilization, and stretching. They also focus on the broader musculoskeletal system and may address other factors such as lifestyle, nutrition, and stress.

Scope of Practice

In general, chiropractors tend to have a more limited scope of practice, mainly focusing on spinal adjustments and conservative musculoskeletal care.

An osteopath, however, is a fully licensed physician with the ability to diagnose and then treat patients with a broader range of conditions, prescribe medication, and perform surgery, if necessary. They often practice in a more primary care role and integrate osteopathic treatments with conventional medical care.

Chiropractor and patient

What are the Similarities Between Chiropractic and Osteopathy?

Despite their differences, chiropractors and osteopaths share several similarities in their approach to healthcare and treating musculoskeletal disorders:

  • Both chiropractors and osteopaths follow a holistic approach to healthcare, considering the body as an interconnected system. They believe that a problem in one area of the body can impact other areas and contribute to overall health issues.
  • Both professions prioritize the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of musculoskeletal conditions, such as joint pain, back pain, and muscle tension. They recognize the importance of maintaining proper alignment and function of the musculoskeletal system for overall health.
  • Both chiropractors and osteopaths use hands-on techniques to treat their patients. They employ various methods, such as spinal manipulation, joint mobilization, and soft tissue techniques, to alleviate pain and improve function.
  • Chiropractors and osteopaths favor noninvasive, drug-free options for their patients. They recommend lifestyle changes, such as exercise, nutrition, and stress management, to help patients manage their conditions and promote overall health.
  • Both professions emphasize the importance of patient education and self-care. They work to empower patients with the knowledge and tools needed to take an active role in their healthcare and improve their quality of life.
  • Chiropractic and osteopathic medicine are often considered complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) approaches. They can be used alongside conventional medical treatments or as standalone therapies, depending on the specific needs and preferences of the patient.

Do I Need Chiropractic or Osteopathic Medicine?

Deciding whether you need a chiropractor or an osteopath depends on your specific health concerns, treatment preferences, and personal goals. Both professionals can effectively address musculoskeletal conditions, although their approaches and areas of focus differ. Here are some factors to consider when choosing between a chiropractor and an osteopath:

If your primary concern is spinal alignment, such as back pain, neck pain, or headaches caused by spinal issues, a chiropractor is more suitable due to their expertise in spinal adjustments.

If you prefer a broader approach that considers not only the musculoskeletal system but also the circulatory and nervous systems, an osteopath is a better fit.

If you require a healthcare professional who can provide a broader range of medical care, including diagnosing and treating various conditions, prescribing medication, and performing surgery, an osteopath is the better choice, as they are fully licensed physicians.

Chiropractors are the right choice if you are specifically interested in spinal manipulation or adjustment. However, an osteopath is more suitable if you prefer a broader range of manual therapy techniques, such as soft tissue manipulation, joint mobilization, and stretching.

If you want a healthcare professional who can easily integrate their treatments with conventional medical care, an osteopath may be a better fit, as they are trained to work alongside medical doctors and provide a more comprehensive approach to healthcare.

Ultimately, the decision to see a chiropractor or an osteopath is personal and should be based on your specific needs. Both professions can provide effective treatments for musculoskeletal issues, but their approaches and areas of focus vary. Therefore, it’s essential to research and consult with medical professionals in both fields to determine the best fit for you.

Chiropractor treating a patient

Looking for Excellent Chiropractic Care? Dr. Doerr Can Help!

At the Bergen Chiropractic and Sports Rehabilitation Center, our chiropractic team, led by Dr. Gregory Doerr, follows the highest and most professional medical standards to provide superior chiropractic help. Our mission is to provide unparalleled patient care and services in a comfortable healing atmosphere. Access our contact form or call us at (201) 945-4075 to learn more about our chiropractic services! Our chiropractic offices at 532 Anderson Avenue, Cliffside Park, NJ 07010, and 62 Summit Ave, Hackensack, NJ 07601, are ready to welcome you as we proudly serve New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, PA, and Baltimore, MD, areas. Also, feel free to access our blog, Facebook, and Instagram pages for more information on chiropractic treatments!



  1. “What Is Osteopathic Medicine?” American Osteopathic Association, 19 Jan. 2022, Accessed 3 Apr. 2023.
  2. “Complementary and Alternative Medicine.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Accessed 3 Apr. 2023.
  3. Vickers, A, and C Zollman. “ABC of Complementary Medicine. the Manipulative Therapies: Osteopathy and Chiropractic.” BMJ (Clinical Research Ed.), U.S. National Library of Medicine, 30 Oct. 1999, Accessed 3 Apr. 2023.