This is a question we are asked a lot. A quick answer is not a lot. There are many factors that cross over and a few that differ. Osteopaths, Chiropractors and Physiotherapists have governed, protected titles meaning without a degree in the particular profession you can not use the title. They all use approaches aimed at helping people who are in pain.
We all treat musculoskeletal pain (pain coming from the muscles or joints).
We all have a University based education.
The professions are governed and legally protected.
As mentioned above there are lots of similarities and an individual in any of the professions can choose their own path to become more akin with another profession however the main difference is in the philosophy of each profession.
Structural Osteopathy is based strongly on a manual therapy focusing on the treatment of the muscles and joints. It takes a whole person approach to treatment paying attention to not only the painful area but the influencing factors of pain. Physical aspects of movement, strength, flexibility are assessed next to posture, pain sensitivity, lifestyle patterns and hobbies incorporating the psychology of pain alongside any other possible contributing factors.
Generally an Osteopath will take a hands on approach from the first treatment and uses a range of techniques ranging through massage, medical acupuncture, joint mobilisation to manipulation or ‘cracking’. The Osteopathic philosophy maintains that if correct movement exists and the psychology of pain is managed the good health will follow. In order to maintain this health the modern Osteopath also prescribe a range of exercises to complement the individual patient needs.
Chiropractors have a focus of joints, either of the spine or limbs. The approach centres on joint movement and restriction paying particular attention to how these joints influence other structures. They will look at physical movement and flexibility, assessing this alongside the biomechanics of movement and force generation.
A chiropractor will generally use joint manipulation as their main method of treatment and this will be combined with forms of electrotherapy such as interferential to aid the effectiveness of the technique. The Chiropractic philosophy suggests that if the affected joints are correctly functioning, the surrounding structures including muscles, nerves and soft tissue will follow.
Physiotherapy within the private medical world generally focuses on musculoskeletal pain conditions. Similar to Osteopathy a Physiotherapist will view the patient as a whole and assess external influencing factors for pain. An assessment will generally be more biomechanically focused, looking at how the body works as a whole.
Physiotherapists will generally take a less hands-on approach to treatment, choosing to focus on restoring function through exercises. Many Physiotherapists do however use electrotherapy, including ultrasound and shockwave therapy in combination with exercise prescription.