10 May Chiro vs Osteo vs Physio? What’s the difference, and who to see when!
Its a question we’re often asked by our patients, and over the years I’ve worked out the simplest way to explain the differences. Many of our patients have experienced all three modalities at some time in their lives, often with chiro being the last tried- the reason usually being that there’s often a misunderstanding, or even no idea of what we do! Or people tell us ‘I’ve tried everything and thought I might give this a go!’
As chiropractors we study not only the spine and skeleton, but the soft tissues (ligaments, muscles and tendons), and how to treat the body through joint manipulation, massage techniques, and rehabilitation exercises (stretching and strengthening). I tend to say to my clients we have experience using all the tools that an osteo or physio has in their box, but we may use them differently, or at least in different amounts. For example, did you know that we also learn how to apply therapeutic ultrasound and tens machines? Something that’s often applied in a physiotherapy setting. Or that we have learned massage techniques that are often applied in an osteopathic setting.
Chiropractic care usually encompasses bits and pieces from both those modalities, however the theory behind chiropractic may explain why we choose to treat the way we do, with spinal and joint adjustments, some soft tissue, and prescription of exercises or stretches.
Chiropractic is holistic. We believe that to gain results that are effective and long-lasting we need to treat the ‘whole’. We hear what your pain or disfunction is, and will treat that area, and others, because we understand the concept that while you may have that specific issue, it may stem from elsewhere, or, be effecting another part of your body. For example, a patient who’s neck always seems to be their troublesome spot. In our frame of thinking, why would we just treat the neck? What if an undiagnosed misalignment of your pelvis kept making your body have to adapt, and your neck was bearing the brunt of this postural change? What if an old shoulder injury was placing undue stress on a muscle that connect to your neck? What if you’re experiencing pins and needles in your fingers, and rather than the issue being caused in your wrist of forearm it was actually stemming from nerve interference at the neck?
People often have the misconception that we just ‘crack’ without a thought to why. Our university studies are similar to those a doctor has, that understanding of disease. We encourage your body to function at its best, so it can be better at healing. We want your nervous system (brain and spinal cord and nerves) to be able to communicate effectively and efficiently with the rest of your body, so that your brain can get our the right messages, and can also receive what it needs to from the body.
What are the differences?
So what are those main differences? What could you expect from a chiro, an osteo, or a physio? In my experience, this is the simplest way to put it:
Chiro: As suspected by most Chiro’s focus is on mechanical disorders of the spine, skull and pelvis, as well as attention to joints, and the way each part of the body works together. However full body approach to your health; a treatment includes specific joint alignment, soft tissue work, advice on rehab (stretching/ strengthening). Chiros are more likely to use x-rays in the diagnosis of conditions.
Osteo: Have a stronger focus on soft tissue work (Muscles & Connective tissue) on the area of pain or dysfunction, can use joint manipulation and mobilization, and soft tissue work.
Physio: Focus is on rehabilitation. There may be some therapy involved such as soft tissue work, and ultrasound etc, time spent retraining and strengthening injured joints and muscles, to regain function.
You’ll likely leave your physio appointment with some strengthening or stretching exercises to do at home to continue treatment.
Now that I’ve said that, let me leave you with this. Working with the human body is by no means a ‘one size fits all’. I will be a different practitioner to the next one, just as you may have had one massage with one person you liked, and one you didn’t like as much. The key is to do what suits you, and this can only be deciphered by trying! The best way to find a practitioner is to ask your friends, ask your colleagues, just ask. Being referred to someone by someone who’s used the therapy and seen the practitioner will put your mind at ease.
And one more thing to keep in mind along the same lines, your body is different to the next persons, you may heal faster or slower and have different challenges along the way. Remember healing is a bumpy road. Generally we want the direction to be onwards and upwards, but along the way there is no doubt bound to be downs and arounds! If you’re ever not sure of what can help you when, just ask us!