Osteopath VS. Chiropractic Treatment: What’s More Effective?

After years of office-based working, I’ve suffered multiple back issues during my life. From neck ache, lower back pain, to tension in my shoulders and finally a muscle spasm in my lower back in 2015 which finally put me out for a number of months.

After trying many alternative therapies, massages and acupuncture that were all successful for momentary pain relief, it was a long time before I took up proper treatment to address the underlying issues.

During my research and advice from family and friends, I decided to go ahead with Chiropractor treatment before swiftly moving onto osteopathic treatment.

Why the change of heart of the treatment? I’ll explain shortly…

back painMy first osteopathic treatment at involved an x-ray of my whole back to understand the underlying issues.

This helped me understand what was going on with my spine, and the treatment required to rectify years of pain and discomfort. My first adjustment gave me such a relief of pain; I cried myself to sleep that night! It’s incredible to think I was going about my life in so much pain.

One of the most interesting aspects of back health is the effects misalignment on certain vertebrae have on other organs and nerves in your body as noted in the diagram to the right. 

Why I switched to an Osteopath

So why did I move onto osteopathic treatment? After approximately 8 treatments I began to feel better, but only for only a short time after the treatment. I’m not saying Chiropractic treatment is not effective, however, deep down I felt like other underlying issues weren’t being addressed. I was also advised to attend an adjustment for at least once a week for the next year. Not only is that flipping pricey, but with my line of work just wasn’t realistic time-wise. At times, it felt like I was being ‘sold to’ rather than being treated to clear up my issues.

Although I wasn’t looking for a ‘quick fix’ and I was fully aware of the steps I needed to take to address the issues outside of treatment; like the setup of my working space, stretching before and after exercise I needed something that would clear up my issues sooner rather than later. Treatment that addressed other issues in my body and treatment that would resolve my back issues leaving me with the occasional maintenance treatment once or twice a year. For me, Osteopathic treatment gave me that in a shorter time frame.

Unlike Chiropractic treatment, my whole health and wellbeing history was accounted for. The muscles surrounding my back were looked at, something that wasn’t even considered or addressed during my adjustments with a Chiropractor. I was also told after being assessed that I could be well and into a maintenance programme of occasional visits after 3-4 treatments.

As my Osteopath Simon explained:

“I’m only interested in getting people better, so they don’t have to come back other then a maintenance treatment if needed. If people have to keep coming back regularly after initial treatment, then I’m not doing my job properly.”

After my initial assessment, it was discovered that after years in the gym, it appeared that I had developed strong muscles in my glutes and other areas around my back that was, in turn, putting a huge amount of pressure on other areas of my body and contributing to my back issues. An issue often identified by both osteopaths and chiropractor where heavy weights are used by people that are either too heavy for them or not used in the right way. Often, people are doing both those things and causing huge back and muscle issues they’ll pay for immediately or down the line.

Through stretching and the manipulation/massage of those muscles to release them, I cannot tell you the relief I felt after my first session. It was a different sensation to my first chiropractor treatment. I was even able to reach down and do my trainers up without being in pain feeling limited…

So, for those contemplating treatments for the back. What’s the difference between the two specialisms?

Well, in general, both can be very helpful in relieving pain for joint injuries, osteoarthritis, joint dysfunction through mobilisation of the spine and joints. I also think treatment comes down to your individual issues.

Chiropractic Treatment of Lower Back Pain

Chiropractors manipulate the spine to treat “subluxation,” which focuses on realigning the vertebrae.

A chiropractic adjustment involves high-velocity thrusts to the vertebrae that reduce pressure on the joints; providing pain relief.  

Spinal manipulation may also be performed via different techniques including:

  • Release work – The chiropractor uses the fingertips to apply pressure on and gently separate the vertebrae.
  • Motion palpation – As the patient moves around, the chiropractor uses the hands to examine joint and vertebrae movements and assess any joint dysfunction.
  • Instrument Adjustments – The chiropractor utilises a spring-loaded instrument as the patient lies face down during the chiropractic adjustment.
  • Toggle Drop – The chiropractor uses crossed hands to press down on the spine and apply a quick and precise thrust to improve joint mobility.
  • Lumbar roll – Quick thrust application to the subluxation as the patient lies sideways.

Osteopathic Treatment of Lower Back Pain

Unlike chiropractors, osteopathic doctors can be any specialist. They may also prescribe medication.

Osteopathic doctors believe that the body works as a ‘whole’ and that mobilisation of its components (especially the musculoskeletal system) encouraging the natural processes of self-regulation and self-healing.

Osteopathic treatment of lower back pain may include one or more of the following techniques:

  • High-velocity low amplitude thrusts (HVLAT) – Similar to what chiropractors do, the osteopathic doctor applies high-velocity thrusts to joints to reduce any restricted movement.
  • Soft Tissue Mobilisation – The osteopathic utilises rhythmic stretching, deep pressure or traction techniques to engage the muscle area around the spine.
  • Counterstrain – The osteopathic pinpoints an exact position of maximum lower back pain for the patient, slowly positions the patient to a position that provides full comfort and then gradually returns the patient to a neutral position.
  • Massage – The osteopathic may perform different massages to stimulate the muscles.
  • Myofascial Therapy – The osteopathic may employ this soft tissue therapy to release muscular shortness and tightness.
  • Muscle Energy – The osteopathic applies a counterforce to the muscles while they are being used in a specific position and direction, such as when flexing.

Myofascial was also recommended to me by Simon to tie in with my Osteopathy treatment. This therapy relieves soft tissue that causes pain (the connective tissue that spreads throughout the body and surrounds every muscle, bone, nerve blood vessel and organs to a cellular level). Perfect for this who have experienced trauma (such as a car accident or fall like I did), cumulative posture misalignment, compressed nerves or inflammatory conditions.

I strongly believe in going with your head and your heart when selecting the best treatment for your body and issues. Go and see both a Chiropractor and Osteopath before agreeing to a plan of treatment and see who and what treatment you get a ‘feel’ for. I also advise steering clear of clinics offering long-term packages at a ‘small’ discount rate before any treatment. This locks you into something long-term when you don’t know how your body will feel or heal after initial treatments.

For me, Osteopathy outweighed Chiropractic treatment. Not only does it look at your ‘whole’ wellbeing, but the treatment is required less frequently as your overall skeletal and muscular health is all dealt with at the same time. Although I need to do the work to keep up my back health, I now only need sporadic osteopathic treatment once or twice a year to keep me fighting fit.

If you’re London-based head to SW19 Osteopaths. An incredibly friendly team who I had extremely positive treatment with. 

Myofascial treatment is available throughout London and the UK. I had my treatment at the London Natural Health Centre.


Natalie is the founder and editor of Balanced Being. She is also an Ambassador for beat, the UK's leading eating disroder charity. Natalie provides wellbeing content and wellness reviews to the site.

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