Osteopath vs. Chiropractor: What’s the Difference?

September 22, 2020

Many people prefer a natural, holistic approach to pain.

But how do you know who to choose? In this article, we examine the differences between an osteopath vs. chiropractor.


Everyone experiences aches, pains, and discomfort every once in a while. But when prescriptions and traditional medical care aren’t cutting it, many people start to research other options.

You may have heard of a chiropractor or osteopath in your search for relief. But how do you know which one you need? What expertise do each of these medical professionals have? In the showdown between osteopath vs. chiropractor, how do the two measure up?

Read on to learn about what each of these professionals do and how it can benefit you.



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What Is a Chiropractor?

A chiropractor is a medical professional who focuses on proper alignment of the spine and other joints.

Although not medical doctors, chiropractors do undergo extensive medical training. Becoming a chiropractor requires no less than seven years of focused schooling (an undergraduate degree followed by four years of chiropractic training), special credentials, and a state license before they can become a Doctor of Chiropractic Medicine.

What is a Chiropractor?

At first glance, it might seem as if chiropractors are only focused on the proper alignment of the spine, but their understanding goes much deeper. Chiropractors view the body holistically, which simply means that they treat the body as a single organism, rather than separate systems. 

When they are correcting a misalignment, or subluxation, of a joint or bone, this will affect the nerves, muscles, and other areas of the body. This is what makes it possible to use chiropractic care to treat a wide variety of conditions. 

Chiropractors tend to focus on natural remedies and usually don’t recommend surgery or prescriptions.


What Is an Osteopath?

An osteopath is a doctor that focuses on the physical manipulation of the tissues, muscles, and bones. Like a chiropractor, osteopaths view the body as a whole rather than focusing on a specific portion.

Osteopathic physicians follow much of the same path as a traditional medical doctor, including pre-med classes, four years of medical school and 3-7 years of residency) but rather than becoming a Doctor of Medicine, or M.D., they become Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.). Like an M.D., an osteopath can prescribe medicine and referrals for surgical procedures as they see fit. 

Osteopathy, however, is widely considered an “alternative” medicine. Osteopaths take a holistic approach and their education involves a heavier focus on the musculoskeletal system than the traditional medical path.


What's the difference between chiropractors and osteopaths?


The primary difference between chiropractors and osteopaths is the degree they hold. An osteopath holds a medical degree and has the same medical rights as any M.D., including the right to prescribe medication. Chiropractors hold a Doctorate of Chiropractic degree and cannot write prescriptions.

The other main difference is the type of treatment they administer. Chiropractors are more likely to use chiropractic adjustments to correct misalignments of the joints, while osteopaths tend to focus more on manipulating soft tissues through stretching and massage.



Despite the differences in their education, both chiropractors and osteopaths must attend rigorous and thorough training in multiple areas of medicine, such as anatomy, biology, and diagnostic imaging. They are both very skilled in their areas of study and hold a vast array of knowledge and experience.

Chiropractors and osteopaths both hold a holistic view of the body and see its various systems as affecting each other. If a patient complains of pain in the wrist, for example, both of these practitioners would expand their treatment to the spine, elbow, or other areas of the body to treat the underlying condition.

Both professionals also believe in the ability of the body to heal itself. Rather than relying on drugs or surgical methods to treat certain conditions, they believe in restoring the body to optimal wellness. Once certain roadblocks are corrected, the body can “get out of its own way.”


Should you see a chiropractor or osteopath?

Which One Do I Need?

This answer depends on what ails you.

If you’re experiencing pain after a car accident or fall, and your pain is located in your lower back, a chiropractor could be your best choice. If you constantly sleep wrong and wake up with back pain, leg pain, or neck pain, again, a chiropractor is probably your best ticket to pain relief. 

Conversely, if you’re suffering from infertility, digestion issues, or even the common cold, an osteopath may be the better option for you. They can refer you for additional testing in conjunction with their holistic treatment. 



When comparing a osteopath vs. chiropractor, there are as many differences as there are similarities. However, there is good news: you can seek treatment from both! 

Similar to physical therapy, chiropractic care doesn’t rely on prescription medications or surgery, so there are no contraindications to receiving chiropractic treatment in addition to osteopathic medicine. In fact, an osteopath as your primary care physician is much more likely to encourage your chiropractor visits and work in conjunction with them. 

Make sure that you relay all treatment information to your chiropractor and osteopath so they can make a plan tailored to your needs.

If the idea of chiropractic care seems intriguing, schedule an appointment to see Dr. Cough or Dr. Chu at Oviedo Chiropractic. After a thorough diagnostic exam, we can develop a treatment plan uniquely formulated for you that incorporates chiropractic adjustments, massage, E-stim therapy, and stretching techniques.

We look forward to seeing you!

Justin Cough

Dr. Justin Cough, D.C.

Dr. Cough graduated from Palmer College of Chiropractic in Port Orange, FL after receiving his BS in Education from SUNY Oswego. Before becoming a chiropractor, he coached many middle and high school sports teams including football, lacrosse, basketball, and soccer. He is passionate about focusing on our bodies' natural healing mechanisms and helping his patients enjoy the utmost sustainability in their lives.

For some, chiropractic offers relief from pain. For others, it's about feeling and looking good. Call today and see what chiropractic can do for you!

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