Why And When To See An Osteopath?


The Difference Between Osteopathy, Physiotherapy & Chiropractic

We’ve all found ourselves in a scenario where we’ve had aches and pains that just won’t go away, and we resort to Googling the problem (only to be unhelpfully told our shoulder pain is a symptom of imminent death). 

In most cases, aches and pains can be remedied with a trip to see an osteopath, physio or chiropractor - but with little nuances defining the three practises, figuring out which professional to see can be confusing.

In this post we’ll help you understand the differences between the three and who to see, when.

At West 1, we offer both osteopathy and physiotherapy as the two go hand-in-hand, so let’s start there…

Understanding the differences in practices


Physiotherapy is a practice often applied to aid recovery in the case of injury, illness or disability. Typically physiotherapists will treat things like sporting injuries, chronic back and neck pain, and musculoskeletal (MSK) injuries, focusing on the specific body parts that have been affected to relieve pain and help improve strength and mobility.

Techniques used include deep tissue massage, taping to help secure the injured joints and acupuncture. ‍

Physiotherapy can also be beneficial for easing joint pain or focusing on specific muscle groups ahead of sporting events.


Osteopathy, on the other hand, looks at the body as a whole, focusing on how the joints, muscles and ligaments work together in order to help realign your form.

Typically, osteopaths will examine your posture and range of motion, as well as understand more about your lifestyle to find the cause of any underlying problems. From this, they can then help to realign the body by moving, stretching and massaging the muscles and joints, and can provide guidance and exercises to prevent issues evolving into an injury or a more serious problem in the future.

Think of an osteopath as the ‘pre-covery’, supporting physical wellbeing and joint health before problems arise, and physiotherapy as the ‘recovery’ for aches, pains and injuries should they surface. 

Q: But I’m not injured or in pain so why would I see an osteopath?

Sometimes we experience little niggles in the body. It could be a feeling of limited mobility or tightness in a joint when reaching for the top shelf, or a lingering discomfort after sitting slumped in a desk chair all week, but nonetheless it’s present and it’s a sign of an imbalance. With ‘minor’ issues such as these, people tend to sweep things under the rug but it only evolves into a worse condition, resulting in pain and a trip to the physio or a GP. Visiting an osteopath can help assess and realign the body well before problems even arise. 

Equally, osteopathy can also support conditions like arthritis by minimising joint inflammation to prevent damage and, in some cases, slow the condition.

And what about chiropractic? 

Chiropractic is a practice to manually relieve problems with the bones, muscles and joints. Both osteopathy and chiropractic are very similar in their manipulation of joints and the techniques used. Where the two differ is in their philosophy. 

Where osteopathy looks at the body as a whole, chiropractic focuses on the alignment of the spine and is grounded in the principle that your nervous system is central to your health.

Typically chiropractors use specific movements or motions that ‘force’ the body back into place to restore the functionality and position of the joints. This might sound mildly terrifying but aside from some pops and cracks you should not feel any intense pain. Some people may feel mildly sore after treatments but, generally speaking, if you weren’t in pain before chiropractic treatment, then you won’t be after. 

When To See An Osteopath?

Conditions that affect the muscles, bones and joints, such as:

  • Lower back, neck, shoulder or elbow pain (discomfort as opposed to pain after injury)
  • Arthritis
  • Joint pain in the pelvis, hips and legs
  • Muscle pain associated with driving, work or pregnancy

When To See A Physiotherapist?

Conditions that affect the bones, joints and soft tissue, for example: 

  • back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain after accidents or injury
  • Sports injuries

Conditions involving the brain or nervous system such as:

  • Movement problems / mobility issues as a result of a stroke, multiple sclerosis (MS) or Parkinson's disease

Heart and circulation issues, such as rehabilitation after a heart attack.

Complications with the lungs and breathing difficulties, such as:

  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) 
  • Or cystic fibrosis

When To See A Chiropractor?

Support with pain in muscles and joints, such as:

  • Back pain
  • Neck pain
  • Shoulder pain
  • Elbow pain
  • Pain from osteoarthritis

In conclusion

Now you have a bit of clarity on the three practises, it may be easier to identify which you need and at what stage. But if you’re still unsure, feel free to get in touch with us and we can help get to the root of the problem and ensure you find the help you need.

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