What is the difference between an osteopath, physiotherapist and chiropractor?


Physiotherapy is a very broad-based training. Physiotherapists work with a diverse spectrum of conditions, ranging from breathing problems to post-operative rehabilitation1,2. Physiotherapy treatment tends to focus on exercises and massage but may also include ultrasound, hydrotherapy, heat therapy or electrotherapies1.

Physiotherapist work in health care systems in both hospitals and the community2. In these settings their treatment may include stroke recovery, mobility after a fracture, hydrotherapy for arthritis, the fitting of splints and braces, incontinence, and assisting with removing secretions from the lungs through percussion techniques.1.

If you choose a physiotherapist for your back pain, we would suggest you choose a physiotherapist with a special interest in the field of back pain or spinal therapy. Traditionally, physiotherapists are less ‘hands on’ with their treatment of back pain, using more exercise-based approaches. However this varies from one practitioner to the next.

All physiotherapists in Australia are required to be registered by law2.


Osteopathy is a form of manual medicine which recognises the important link between the structure of the body and the way it functions3.

Osteopaths take a holistic approach to your treatment. Osteopathy is commonly used to treat musculoskeletal problems as well as other functional disorders of the human body4. They focus on how the different elements of the body function together as a holistic unit2. Osteopaths work with your muscles, ligaments and other soft tissue using a combination of stretch, massage, and pressure point and manipulation techniques to promote mobility and restore your body’s balance2.

Australian osteopaths are five year university trained, and are government registered and regulated health professionals.


A Chiropractic is also a holistic therapy focusing on musculoskeletal problems5. Typically people consult a Chiropractor for pain relief and injury recovery. However there is so much more to chiropractic.

Chiropractic is a health care discipline based on the scientific premise that the body is a self-regulating, self-healing organism controlled by the brain, the spinal cord and the nervous system 5, 6. Chiropractors focus on the relationship between the structure of the spine and pelvis as coordinated by the function of the nervous system6. This relationship affects the preservation and restoration of health and the ability of the body to resist disease and ill health in the future.

If the nerve pathways of the spinal cord are affected by misalignment of vertebrae, problems are created in surrounding muscles and tissue and other areas of the body6. Chiropractors aim to improve nervous system function primarily by restoring joint movement and addressing underlying biomechanical issues throughout your body5. He or she will use specific techniques including massage, stretch and rehabilitative exercise to help a patient heal as well as working with the patient in other areas of his life (including diet, postural and exercise programs)5. The goal is to strengthen the body thereby preventing re-injury and resolve the problem for the long-term.

Australian chiropractors are five year university trained, and are government registered and regulated health professionals.


  1. Australian Physiotherapy Association. (n.d). What is physiotherapy? Retrieved from https://www.physiotherapy.asn.au/APAWCM/Physio_and_You/physio/APAWCM/Physio_and_You/physio.aspx?hkey=25ad06f0-e004-47e5-b894-e0ede69e0fff
  2. The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne. (n.d). What is physiotherapy. Retrieved from http://www.rch.org.au/physio/what_is_physiotherapy/What_is_Physiotherapy/
  3. Osteopathy Australia. (n.d). About osteopathy. Retrieved from http://www.osteopathy.org.au/pages/about-osteopathy.html
  4. Canadian College of Osteopathy. (n.d). Osteopathy defined. Retrieved from http://www.osteopathy-canada.com/osteopath-definition/
  5. Chiropractic Association Australia. (2011). About chiropractic [Fact Sheet]. Retrieved from http://www.caawa.com.au/sites/caawa.com.au/files/files/Fact%20Sheet%20-%20Chiropractic.pdf
  6. World Federation of Chiropractic. (n.d). Definitions of Chiropractic. Retrieved from https://www.wfc.org/website/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=90&Itemid=110

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