What is the difference between chiropractic, osteopathy, physiotherapy and acupuncture?
"who is best to see?"
Hmm, this is a very good and perfectly just question to ask when you may be suffering from a musculoskeletal complaint like back pain, neck pain, a shoulder or knee injury, etc., and who is going to be the best physician to consult for your particular problem.
However, this is not as easy to answer, in an objective manner, as one might think, and there is no clear cut criteria to which of these healthcare professions, namely chiropractic, osteopathy, physiotherapy or acupuncture, is best to consult for a particular musculoskeletal problem.
To make that decision further more confusing, there are some so called experts questioning whether you really need to seek any of these professional healthcare services at all. You could easily pick up a packet of Panadol, Nurofen or Voltarin from your local Pharmacist or some other prescription anti-inflammatories or analgesics from your Medical Practitioner and the pain will just go away? But that isn’t always the case and this is perhaps why you are trying to be more informed.
To help you get a better understanding of each of these four healthcare professions, and before making a decision on what to do next, we have provided you brief explanations of what each of these healthcare professions do, as follows.
What is Chiropractic?
As defined by the Australian Chiropractors Association: Chiropractic is a drug and surgery free modality of treatment concerned with the diagnosis, management and prevention of mechanical disorders of the musculoskeletal system (spine); this includes the effects of these disorders on the function of the nervous system and general health. Chiropractors focus on the detection and correction of abnormal spinal function and its subsequent effect on how the nervous system controls and coordinates the body.
As explained by the Australian Chiropractors Association: There is a common misconception that chiropractic care involves a singular therapeutic technique – spinal manipulation (spinal adjustment). Chiropractors, however, use a patient centred, multi-modal model of care.
Most Australian chiropractors provide a therapeutic approach to care that incorporates a range of manual therapies which may include spinal adjustment, but also includes mobilisation, muscle and soft tissue techniques along with electrotherapies, exercise prescription, rehabilitation, nutritional recommendations and lifestyle advice. These have been shown to be of benefit to people with a range of musculoskeletal conditions.
When treating patients, chiropractors are no different to any other health professional (including GPs). They make an assessment and develop a treatment plan in accordance with the needs of the patient and provide advice on future management strategies.
As defined by Osteopathy Australia: Osteopaths focus on the neuro-musculoskeletal system, which comprises bones, muscles, nerves and other tissues that support the human body and control its movements. They provide musculoskeletal and nervous system assessments, manual therapy, clinical exercise programs, and movement, postural, positioning advice and ergonomic assessments. They may also offer therapeutic needling techniques, such as dry needling, trigger point therapy or acupuncture. Osteopaths may also offer ongoing support and educational advice about lifestyle, stress management, diet or other factors that may influence a person’s pain, injury or movement.
As explained by the Australian Physiotherapy Association: Physiotherapists help you get the most out of life. They help you recover from injury, reduce pain and stiffness, increase mobility and prevent further injury.
As explained by the Australian Physiotherapy Association: Physiotherapists are trained to assess your condition, diagnose the problem, and help you understand what’s wrong. Your treatment plan will take into account your lifestyle, activities and general health. The following are common treatment methods use by physiotherapists:
exercise programs to improve mobility and strengthen muscles
joint manipulation and mobilisation to reduce pain and stiffness
muscle re-education to improve control
airway clearance techniques and breathing exercises
soft tissue mobilisation (massage)
acupuncture and dry needling
assistance with use of aids, splints, crutches, walking sticks and wheelchairs to help you move around.
A clear definition of Acupuncture has not been easy to find, however most explanations refer to Acupuncture as a form of health care or a healing technique that improves the body’s functions and promotes natural self-healing by stimulating or unblocking “qi” (pronounced “chee”) or “energy” flow along specific pathways, know as meridians (invisible channels), throughout the body. This constant flow of “qi” is what is thought to be essential for a healthy body and the prevention of illness.
What does an Acupuncturist do?
As explained by the Australian Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine Association:
Acupuncture treatment involves the insertion of fine, sterile needles into specific sites (acupuncture points) along the body's meridians to clear energy blockages and encourage the normal flow of qi through the individual.
The practitioner may also stimulate the acupuncture points using other methods, including moxibustion, cupping, laser therapy, electro-stimulation and massage, in order to re-establish the flow of qi.
So after reading through the various healthcare professions’ definitions and what they do, you now know whom to contact, right? Well, if you are like the majority of people who are not involved in this particular area of healthcare or you have not had any, or only very little, personal experience with these different healthcare professions, it’s most likely that you are still confused as to whom you should contact for your particular problem.
Now for a simplified interpretation/perspective on what each of the abovementioned healthcare professions tend to do or focus on, in general. This by no means defines what every single individual practitioner does or treats, and for those who have consulted the services of various physicians within the same profession, may have found that they all have applied different techniques or methods for the treatment of the same problem.
Chiropractors in general tend to have a strong focus on the spine and how its joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments may be affecting or interfering with the communication of its nerves to the brain and vice versa and how any disruption or injury at the spinal level may be contributing to an individual’s particular musculoskeletal condition and pain processing. Historically, a Chiropractors’ principal method of treatment was via adjustments (targeted manipulation to a specific joint), primarily of the spine but also other joints (shoulder, hip, knee, ankle, etc.) of the body.
Adjustments have been shown to stimulate nerves surrounding the area being targeted and this is believed to act as a reset or a reboot of the normal function/working of these nerves and therefore improving communication/control with the muscles, ligaments, joints, etc., which are being regulated/controlled by these affected nerves, hence restoring the proper function of these muscles, etc., and helping speed up the healing processors of the involved injured tissues.
However, depending on the practitioner, various other methods or techniques may be used in conjunction to adjustments, such as massage, acupuncture, stretches, exercises, etc.
Osteopaths in general tend to use more soft tissue therapies such a massage and mobilisations or stretches of joints. With their principal focus being on improving the blood supply to the injured or disrupted tissues of the body.
Physiotherapists in general tend to focus on exercises and stretches and getting the various areas of the body more flexible and moving better. Physiotherapists are typically well equipped and fantastic at dealing with physical rehabilitation of the human frame in conditions with paralysis, such as those encountered in stroke and motor vehicle accident sufferers.
Acupuncturists in general typically use the insertion of fine needles into injured or tense muscular and ligamentous areas of the body with the primary focus on the area of pain or dysfunction. This technique tends to work well in blocking pain through its analgesic effect.
As you may have realised, all the healthcare professions mentioned above, can all treat the same common musculoskeletal conditions, with only a few differences in their principal techniques or the methods generally used and perhaps their main focus or approach to treating some of the musculoskeletal problems.
However, as mentioned, the main differences you will find will be between practitioners themselves and not necessarily between the different professions. If you are to use the services of two different practitioners of the same profession, you are likely to notice differences, particularly in their approach and techniques used. (Ok, perhaps some will be better looking than others too :)
Based on our experience and knowledge, we understand that a single technique or method alone wont give us the most effective and fastest results possible for every problem, hence we have adopted a number of different techniques and methods, such as deep soft tissue massage, stretches, adjustments and exercises to effectively and quickly treat those challenging musculoskeletal problems we encounter everyday.
If you still don’t know whom you should consult, we suggest you seek a practitioner who has been successful at treating someone you know and trust. If you don’t know anyone who has had the same problem as yourself and a successful outcome with a particular practitioner or you simply cannot wait any longer to find a reliable recommendation, then, what are you waiting for?, give us a call now, it may just be the right place for you too, and if we don’t believe we can help you, you won’t be charged a thing.