What is the difference between a chiropractor and an osteopath? This is a very commonly asked question when people are considering seeking some alternative health and wellness advice for a variety of conditions ranging from back and neck pain through to sports injuries.
Often the confusion around Osteopaths and Chiropractors is due to the similarities of both professions. In fact both are primary health care professionals using a hands-on approach to patient health care. In both professions this includes a detailed examination and diagnosis, followed by treatment, and the potential for referral.
Another common element of both professions is they also subscribe to the concept of a holistic approach, treating the body as a whole rather than just addressing the obvious symptoms. This approach essentially involves treating all of the body’s systems as interconnected and inter-dependent for improvement in overall good health.
Having pointed out the similarities, in order to help answer the question of differences we must take a look into what each profession encompasses and the training required for Osteopaths and Chiropractors here in New Zealand.
What Is An Osteopath?
Founded in the 1860s by medical doctor and surgeon Andrew Still, the Osteopaths New Zealand Association refers to Osteopaths as “primary health care practitioners who recognise the important link between the structure of the body and the way it functions”.
Osteopaths focus on gently mobilising the muscles, ligaments and joints, while also incorporating therapeutic massage techniques, cranial treatment, muscle stretches and exercise programs to help relieve pain and improve the overall function of the body. This includes treating complaints that may seem unrelated to the spine or joints.
Most appointments with an Osteopath last about 30 minutes, with the initial consultation usually lasting longer. In order to work as an Osteopath in New Zealand practitioners must hold a current Annual Practising Certificate and be registered with the Osteopathic Council of New Zealand. Australian registered Osteopaths are eligible for New Zealand registration under the Trans-Tasman Mutual Recognition Act.
Osteopaths in New Zealand are registered ACC treatment providers (no referral required) and some private health insurers cover Osteopathic treatments.
What Is A Chiropractor?
Founded in 1895 by Daniel Palmer, the definition of a Chiropractor according to the New Zealand College of Chiropractic is “primary health care professionals who…. specialise in providing specific adjustments to the spine to correct abnormal function so that the body can express its fullest potential”.
Chiropractors believe good maintenance of the spine and nervous system will allow the body to better function at optimal levels and ultimately heal itself. Treatment usually consists of specific “adjustments” including thrust-like movements, light pressure and contacts as well as instrument and table-assisted methods of spinal and joint manipulation to restore joint position and function.
Most Chiropractic appointments will be for a period of 15 minutes, with initial consultations as long as 30 minutes to an hour. In order to work as a Chiropractor in New Zealand, practitioners must hold a current Annual Practicing Certificate and be registered with the New Zealand Chiropractors Board.
Chiropractors in New Zealand are also registered ACC treatment providers.
Training To Be An Osteopath
To become an Osteopath in New Zealand requires five years of study at university level. In the first three years students complete a Bachelor of Applied Science with a major of human Biology, then if achieving a B average can apply for admission to the Auckland Unitech Institute of Technology for admission into the New Zealand Masters Degree in Osteopathy.
Throughout five years of study osteopathic students cover anatomy, physiology, pathology, neurology and general medical diagnosis with a focus on diagnosis and treatment using osteopathic treatment techniques and principles. A research thesis is also required in the final stages of the Master Degree.
A dedicated student clinic is used to provide Osteopathic students with essential hands-on experience ensuring they are ready to face real world situations. Upon completion graduates are required to register with the Osteopathic Council of New Zealand in order to legally practice in New Zealand.
Training To Be A Chiropractor
To become a Chiropractor in New Zealand students are required to complete a five year Bachelor of Chiropractic degree with the last four years of study undertaken at the New Zealand College of Chiropractic in Auckland.
The first year consists of specific university health science papers which are Anatomy and Physiology, Microbiology, Biophysics, General and Organic Chemistry, Biological Chemistry, Knowledge, Enquiry and Communication and one elective. This can be completed at the Auckland University of Technology (AUT).
At the New Zealand College of Chiropractic students use the college’s dedicated Chiropractic Treatment Centre to gain vital hands-on experience with real world patients. The degree covers health sciences, chiropractic technique and philosophy, diagnostic imaging, nutrition, business skills and an intensive practical experience component, as well as specialised chiropractic care for children and the elderly.
When considering the differences between Osteopaths and Chiropractors it is important to note that individual practitioners within both professions may vary their approach significantly, both within their preferred treatment methods and recommendations for recovery.
This wide scope of practice is beneficial as different health conditions respond differently from person to person, some may find an Osteopathic treatment works best and others a Chiropractor, everyone is different. The key is to find a qualified health professional with a good reputation who understands your complaint and provides a personalised treatment plan.
Lorraine Herity is the Clinic Director of Better Health Osteopathy in Christchurch, New Zealand. She previously worked in Osteopathic clinics in London and Ireland, before moving to New Zealand. Lorraine trained at the British School of Osteopathy in London, where she gained her Master of Osteopathy (M.Ost). Lorraine is a dedicated and passionate Osteopath. Her main aim is to help her patients regain their health, and to return her patients back to their everyday activities, in as quick a time as possible.