Physiotherapist, osteopath or chiropractor?

September 11th 2015 |

What is the difference between physiotherapy, osteopathy and chiropractic?

A good physio, osteopath or chiropractor can all fix injuries. There are probably more crossovers than differences in how we treat. Each different therapist will approach things from a slightly different perspective but we all have the same aim; to decrease pain and fix an injury.

While we all have a different tool box of interventions, each different discipline aims to diagnose and treat problems related to muscles, joints, bones and nerves. We all have different hands on techniques to – among other things – mobilise joints, decrease muscle tension, get nerves moving better and make sure the body is moving how it was designed to move. Our hands on interventions are backed up with different exercises to control movement, get better balance between different muscles and prevent injuries from coming back in the longer term. We will all try to find the problem rather than just treat the symptom.

These disciplines come from different origins and the public perception of each is very different.


Physiotherapy (or Physical Therapy) dates back around 5000 years when physicians used exercises to help heal different conditions. It then progressed more into massage therapy in the 19th century.

Modern day physiotherapy still focuses a lot on exercise management but also has a comprehensive series of hands-on techniques to help a patient progress back to full fitness. More recently, physiotherapists have supported sports people and athletes back to full health and you can often see a physio at the side of sports fields to help treat injuries right from when they happen.

Physiotherapy or physiotherapist are titles protected by the Health Care and Professionals Council (HCPC) to ensure that the public are treated in a safe and professional manner.

At Injury Shetland, we believe that joints move because muscles make them move. We often approach the body from a muscular perspective. Achieving better muscle balance, posture and movement helps to build on the hands on treatment to prevent an injury from coming back in the future.


According to The Institute of Osteopathy the profession ‘was founded in the late 1800s by physician and surgeon Andrew Taylor Still in Kirksville, Missouri. The son of a surgeon, soon discovered that in order to achieve the highest possible form of health, all parts of the body should work together harmoniously’. Osteopathy is a holistic approach to an injury. While the problem area is carefully assessed, an osteopath will look at how the whole body impacts on that area.

Because of the body’s structure, the pain or stiffness you are experiencing in one area may be linked to a problem elsewhere.

An osteopath will examine and assess the health of the joints, tissues and ligaments using their hands and a highly developed sense of touch called palpation to identify any points of pain,inflammation, weakness or excessive tension and strain throughout the body.

The osteopath will then give you a clear explanation of what they have found, their diagnosis, and discuss a treatment plan tailored for you which may also include exercises and lifestyle changes.

Osteopath or osteopathy are also protected titles. Osteopaths are regulated by the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC).


The British Chiropractic Association write that ‘the inception of modern chiropractic can be traced back to 1895 when Canadian Daniel David Palmer performed the first chiropractic adjustment and went on to found The Palmer School of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa in 1897’.

Chiropractors diagnose and treat conditions that are due to problem s with bones, joints, muscles and nerves.

The focus is on optimisation of neurological function and chiropractors are often best recognised for treatment of spinal related issues, such as neck pain and back pain. Common public perception is that chiropractors just ‘crack’ backs. However, chiropractors have many different interventions available and can also treat any other joint in the body as well.

Chiropractors use predominantly a ‘hands-on’ approach to improve joint and nerve function and help relieve pain. Chiropractors can also support the treatment they offer with advice about lifestyle, nutrition and exercise in order to help manage a condition and lessen recurrence.

Chiropractic and chiropractor are protected titles and all chiropractors must be registered with the General Chiropractic Council (GCC).

So, who should I see then?

In theory you should be able to see either person to fix an injury. It depends how you want to be treated and what has worked for you in the past.

In summary, a physio will often have a more muscular approach and will back up hands-on treatment with exercises. Osteopathy is predominantly a hands-on approach but at Injury Shetland our osteopath is also trained in Pilates for longer term care. And a chiropractor is also predominantly hands-on and aims to optimise neurological function. A good physio, osteopath or chiropractor will all give advice on lifestyle, nutrition and teach you exercises to stop the problem from coming back again.

Ross Smith - physiotherapist at Injury Shetland
Emma Jamieson - osteopath at Injury Shetland
Joanne Middleton - chiropractor at Shetland Chiropractic