Osteopathic Care Or Chiropractic Care?

Is there a difference?

Many people are confused about the differences between an osteopath and a chiropractor.  The confusion begins with the initials Dr. or the word “doctor”.  We all tend to lump anyone with the word “doctor” within their name into the same category.  Yet, there are significant differences in training, techniques and the credentials bestowed upon each type of practice.  This article is designed to explain the differences for the consumer can make an informed choice. 

A D.O. is a Doctor of Osteopathy and a D.C. designates a Doctor of Chiropractic. 

The following descriptions begin to differentiate between the two fields: Osteopathy is a system of medical practice based on a theory that diseases are due chiefly to loss of structural integrity which can be restored by manipulation of the parts supplemented by therapeutic measures.  Chiropractic is a system of therapy which holds that disease results from a lack of normal nerve function and which employs manipulation and specific adjustment of body structures, focusing on the spine.


Osteopaths complete four years of undergraduate studies and four years of post-graduate study, with prevention as a focus and learning the whole-person perspective. Basic sciences such as anatomy and physiology comprise 50 percent of the curriculum. The remaining 50 percent takes place in hospitals and other settings where osteopaths practice.  Osteopaths are required to complete a 1 year rotating internship, exposing them to various hospital departments, such as internal medicine and surgery. Additionally, many osteopaths complete a residency in a specialty such as I have done in psychiatry. This can involve from two to six years of additional training.  An osteopath must pass a state medical board examination in order to obtain a license and practice in that state just like a traditional M.D. Osteopaths are also required take continuing medical education completing at least 120 hours every three years.  Osteopaths may prescribe drugs and perform surgeries.


The chiropractic school’s curriculum is comprised of basic and clinical sciences. Basic sciences typically make up 30 percent of the program. This includes the study of anatomy, physiology, pathology, biochemistry, microbiology and public health.  Chiropractic clinical sciences occupy approximately 40 percent of the program with clinical clerkships making up the remaining 30 percent of the curriculum.  Chiropractic doctors have typically 2 to 4 years of undergraduate work plus 4 years of post-graduate studies, use manipulation primarily and can not use prescription drugs or perform surgery.  

Further differences can be seen between the osteopath’s larger diversity of manipulation techniques and treatment modalities as compared to the chiropractor.  The osteopath is trained in soft tissue technique also known as myofascial treatment.  This technique applies stretching or deep pressure to muscles while assessing the responses and change in motion through palpitation or touching.  Osteopaths also use lymphatic technique, which promotes circulation of the lymph.  Muscle energy and high velocity/low amplitude force techniques are used to restore range of motion and reduce tenderness.  These are just some of the techniques an osteopath is trained to employ to restore balance and the body’s innate ability to heal itself.  The chiropractor only has two principle manipulation techniques.  The most common is commonly known as “cracking.”  This is technically called HVLA or high velocity, low amplitude adjustments.  The other technique is referred to as network chiropractic.  This technique is a spin off from cranial osteopathy.  Overall, the osteopath has more education and training, a larger repertoire of modalities, can prescribe drugs, perform surgeries and is held to the same high standards as the traditional M.D.

When you see an osteopath, you are entrusting your care to a highly trained physician.  You are seen as a whole person, taking into consideration your emotions and spirituality while treating you from the perspective that your body has been designed to self-heal.  Osteopathy addresses why illness has happened by working on the structure and fluid movement within the body to support a state where the healing process can naturally occur.