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  • Writer's pictureNigel Wilman

Physio vs Osteopathy vs Chiropractor

Updated: Feb 18, 2023

The first thing that I need to state is that I am a physiotherapist, so I am potentially biased.

The goal of this post is to try to help people to understand the difference between various similar practitioners, so that they can make an informed decision about who best to see regarding their problem.

When I was researching this post, I really wanted there to be a clear answer to this question. And obviously I wanted physiotherapy to come out the clear winner!

Unfortunately, the difference between all these professions is far from clear, and there exists considerable overlap between them.

To add to the confusion, there is tremendous inconsistency within each profession.

For example, my experience within the physiotherapy world is that there is a wide variety of treatment approaches. Some physiotherapists will do zero hands-on, only prescribing exercises (typically an NHS approach). But at Honiton Physiotherapy about 80%+ of our treatment is hands-on, along with exercises to supplement the rehabilitation. I whole-heartedly believe that this is the best way - it is real, effective Physiotherapy.

In clinics that I have worked in the past, I have also witnessed physio’s who would only use electrotherapy (therapeutic machines) and nothing else. I even saw one physio colleague just use acupuncture to treat absolutely everything!

Frustratingly, this is often the experience from the public’s perspective - they do not know what to expect from a physiotherapist.

I think that the same points can be made with reference to Osteopaths and Chiropractors: there will be a wide variety of approaches depending upon the specific practitioner and their particular approach.

The only clear distinctions I feel that I can really make is that Chiropractors and Osteopaths both use high velocity manipulation techniques to the spine. In other countries Chiropractors will also venture into treating all sorts of health problems through spinal manipulation.

Osteopaths have also been known to attempt treatment of a wide variety of health problems through spinal manipulation and even organ mobilisation! They describe this approach as “holistic.”

Some Osteopaths and Chiropractors provide self help exercises, some do not.

Finally, both Osteopaths and Chiropractors are almost exclusively private, meaning that they have clear business models for long episodes of treatment. Oops! My physio bias is creeping in!

Unfortunately for the Physiotherapy profession, people with Back pain or Neck pain often think they should see a Chiropractor or an Osteopath for their problem. But please take this from me:


To be honest, there will be good Physiotherapists and bad Physiotherapists. There will be good Chiropractors and bad Chiropractors. There will be good Osteopaths and bad Osteopaths.

However, ultimately it comes down to seeing a practitioner who you feel you can trust, and with whom you feel that you are getting results. Having a recommendation is always best, and having a look at customer reviews is also useful.

For the record, at Honiton Physiotherapy all our therapists do things the right way, with plenty of hands-on as well as self help exercises. We also offer a Discovery Visit session so that you can come and talk to us for free, and see what we have to offer.

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