Osteopathy, physiotherapy and chiropractic are three holistic or alternative medical treatments which are primarily designed to aid physical well-being, repair and regenerate the body, and improve general well-being in the long-term. However, when faced with the challenge of overcoming an illness, an injury or a disability, it is difficult to know which of these three treatments is right for you. Broadly speaking, all three treatments have the same desired outcome, but they approach physical well-being from different perspectives and will use subtly different techniques.
When our clients first come to us, we know that deciding on the right course of treatment can be difficult. When seeking out the most cost-effective treatment for you, it’s helpful to have a comprehensive understanding of the three disciplines, their origins and their ultimate treatment goals. Which is why we’ve put together this comprehensive guide to osteopathy, physiotherapy and chiropractic…
Physiotherapy aims to restore movement and function when someone has been affected by illness, injury or disability. It is also used as a means of ensuring that a similar illness or injury does not affect you in the future. Physiotherapy is a treatment where the patient is encouraged to plan and participate in their own care. This means that physiotherapy is a medical practice that transcends the physical, overlapping into mental health and social care.
How physiotherapy can help you
Broadly speaking, physiotherapy helps to ameliorate conditions that affect the following four systems of the body. Here are some examples of just some of the ways physiotherapy can help.
Stroke: physiotherapists play a key role, both in the immediate aftermath of a stroke, but also after you have been discharged from the hospital. Physiotherapy is designed, amongst other things, to help victims of a stroke regain their muscle control and strength.
Parkinson’s disease: physiotherapy helps Parkinson’s sufferers plan for how their condition is to be managed. Physiotherapy aims to help you work out goals and possibilities for the future. For example, your general physical activity and endurance will be assessed, as will your ability to manage every-day tasks. Physiotherapy for Parkinson’s sufferers is part of a joined up package of health and social care, all of which is designed to help patients best lead the life that they want to.
Multiple sclerosis: physiotherapy can help with mobility, independence and fitness. It is worth seeing if you can get a referral to a physio who specialises in neurological conditions. Physiotherapists play a key role in the management of MS.
Back and muscle pain: physiotherapy for back pain can include manual treatment or acupuncture. A physiotherapist will also advise you on exercises, posture and fitness to ensure that the pain does not return.
Falls and fractures: physiotherapy can help in the aftermath of a fall, or a fracture. For example, weight bearing exercises can help strengthen your bones and prevent another one. Physiotherapy after a fall or fracture is also likely to emphasise the importance of improving your balance.
Cardiovascular diseases: cardiovascular disease refers to all health conditions that can affect the cardiovascular systems of the body, which in turn affects blood flow. Physiotherapy can be crucial after a heart attack or a stroke. Cardiac rehabilitation programmes can be very effective and offer education and support through the recovery process.
Asthma: physiotherapy can help asthma sufferers take control of their condition. For example, a course of physiotherapy can help an asthma sufferer with retraining their breathing; this means that symptoms such as coughing and shortness of breath can be managed more effectively.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): this is an umbrella term for conditions such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema and cases of chronic asthma. Pulmonary rehabilitation and physiotherapy has been shown to be most effective in helping sufferers manage their condition; for example breathlessness and coping with everyday tasks.
How physiotherapists work
Physiotherapists will advise and work with their patients in a number of ways; they will treat patients actively, but also on a more consultative basis.
Education and advice
As we have already seen, a big part of physiotherapy is about educating the patient so that they are encouraged to feel like they are in control of their own rehabilitation. This means that a very simple, but very crucial part of treatment involves both a correct diet and regular exercise.
Depending on what you are seeking physiotherapy for, a physiotherapist will also advise you on things such as posture and breathing, with the intention of making you better at regulating your own health.
As part of the wider rehabilitative programme, a physiotherapist will also use manual therapy to mobilise the body tissues. The end goal is to relieve pain and stiffness, improve general circulation, promote motivation and ensure relaxation.
Other therapies and techniques
As well as a concentrated manual therapy, a physiotherapist may suggest other treatments to help your rehabilitation. These can include:
Acupuncture – fine needles are inserted into certain parts of the body, to help ease pain and promote well-being and recovery.
Electrical nerve stimulation – small electric currents are delivered to the affected area, in the hope of relieving pain.
Ultrasound – high frequency sound waves are used to treat deep tissue trauma or pain.
Part 2: Osteopathy
Osteopathy focuses more on the diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of musculoskeletal disorders. Like physiotherapy, it involves both physical treatment mixed with a wider treatment plan that focuses on diet, lifestyle and empowering the patient.
The principle of osteopathy is that the well-being of the individual relies on the way that bones, muscles, ligaments and connective tissues work with each other. Osteopathy arguably focuses more on the body as a system, as opposed to the rehabilitative strategies of physiotherapy – however both treatments seek very similar outcomes.
How osteopathy can help you
Arthritis is the name for a swelling and inflammation and stiffness in the joints of the body. There are two common types of arthritis – osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, but there are many other types of arthritis that people suffer with.
The massage and manipulative techniques employed by osteopathy can help osteoarthritis sufferers. The arthritic joint is moved and stretched; the surrounding muscles are also massaged and soothed as part of the treatment. The osteopath will often work on other joints and muscles so as to improve the mechanics of the body.
Osteopathy is a means of treating very common back pains and aches. Osteopaths use manual treatments depending on age, fitness and diagnosis. Osteopaths work to gently massage the soft tissues of your back, release tension and loosen joints.
Headaches & Migraine Prevention
Osteopathy has proven to be quite successful in treating the root causes of headaches; it helps to loosen the muscles and joints of the neck, relieving the muscular tension that can cause headaches. Osteopathy also helps with migraine prevention.
The root causes of should pain are often complex, but an osteopath can work with you to understand the root cause of the problem. Treatment will mainly focus on stretching, reducing the tension of any tight muscles and improving the general movement of the shoulder.
Osteopathy can help with some of the many common conditions that can give rise to pain in the foot. These can include flat foot, Achilles pain and swelling or bruising of the ankle. Osteopathy will often look at root causes beyond the foot itself, working on muscles and joints in the lower limbs, hips and lower back pain.
Part 3: Chiropractic
Chiropractic treatment focuses on the same system of the body as osteopathy – the musculoskeletal system. This means that chiropractic treatment is also concerned with the muscles, the joints and the ligaments of the body. Like osteopathy, chiropractic treatment views the body as a system, meaning that treatment of the bones and the joints of the body can promote a feeling of overall general well-being.
What chiropractic treatment has in common with osteopathy is that they both fall under the category of complementary and alternative medicines (CAMS). This will usually mean that there is not a great deal of availability on the NHS, which mainly offers primary care, free at the point of use.
Chiropractic treatment will either be used as a complementary treatment (i.e. alongside a primary course of treatment) or as an alternative treatment (i.e. instead a primary course of treatment). Either way, an initial assessment will allow a chiropractor to determine how chiropractic treatment can help you.
The treatment most associated with chiropractic is spinal manipulation, wherein force is applied to the joints and muscles around the spine. A chiropractor will apply short, sharp thrusts to the spine, as well as gradually moving joints through a range of different positions in the hope of improving general movement.
As with osteopathy and physiotherapy, your practitioner will also advise you on a range of diets, exercises and nutrition to help prevent a further recurrence of your condition.
As well as back, joint, hip pain and foot problems, it has been suggested that chiropractic therapy may be useful in the treatment of the following conditions.