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Osteopathy, Physiotherapy, Chiropractic: What's the difference?

G'day readers!

I’m Dr. Nicholas Giovas (Osteopath) from Matrix Health & Performance in East Ivanhoe, and today, I'm going to attempt to answer a question that I get all the time. It's a question that I remember being told on day one of university many years ago by our osteopathy professor. She had said the question we'll get asked more than any other is: What's the difference?

I'll start by saying the next words that followed from our professor... "I didn't study physiotherapy or chiropractic, so I can't really say". I'll try to do a little better than that today, but her point remains.


Osteopathy is based on the principle that the body is a single, interconnected system, and its well-being relies on this system's harmony. In the heart of Ivanhoe, we, osteopaths, employ a holistic approach, focusing on the whole body rather than just the area causing discomfort.

Osteopathic treatments involve a range of hands-on techniques like joint manipulation, stretching, and massage, targeting the muscles, joints, and spine. Osteopaths aim to alleviate pain, enhance mobility, and promote the body's natural healing processes.

Osteopaths are also equipped to provide lifestyle and exercise advice, aiming to prevent recurring issues and empower you to maintain your own health long-term.

In practical terms, osteopaths are trained to be more holistic than their counterparts (although good physio's and chiro's will be holistic too) and we spend the majority of our consults doing hands-on treatment. Osteopaths in general aren't as equipped at providing rehabilitation but it's something we do a lot of at Matrix.


Physiotherapy, primarily focuses on restoring function and movement in individuals affected by injury, illness, or disability. Physiotherapists use a wide range of techniques, including exercises, movement training, and manual therapy.

One of the main differences between physiotherapy and osteopathy lies in the treatment approach. While osteopaths take a holistic approach, physiotherapists generally focus on the specific area of dysfunction or injury.

As stated, good physio's will still be holistic and when you understand biomechanics, you have to be.

In practical terms, physio's will generally spend more time going through detailed rehab. In my personal experience with physiotherapy and in many of my patient's accounts, generally a consult is roughly 50% treatment, 50% education and rehabilitation.


Chiropractic treatment focuses primarily on disorders of the musculoskeletal system, particularly the spine. Chiropractors also generally have a good understanding of neurology.

Chiropractors use manual adjustment techniques to correct alignment problems and support the body's natural healing ability.

Chiropractic adjustments often involve a high-velocity thrust to particular joints, often leading to an audible "crack" or "pop". This treatment aims to improve spinal function and alleviate discomfort.

Chiropractic care differs between therapists (as it does with osteopathy and physiotherapy too). Some chiropractors will spend as little as 3-5 minutes with a patient and have an open-plan treatment area. Others will spend 30 minutes and be in a private treatment room.

In practice, a chiro treatment is generally more focused with the popping noise achieved with joint cavitation or "cracking" and the sessions are usually shorter than that of osteopathy or physiotherapy.

How Are They Similar?

Osteopathy, physiotherapy, and chiropractic share a common goal – to alleviate pain and improve function. They all provide non-surgical and drug-free treatments for a variety of conditions, particularly those involving the musculoskeletal system.

All three professions require a comprehensive understanding of anatomy and physiology, and practitioners are highly trained to ensure safe and effective treatments.

I always say, good therapists that follow the evidence will all treat similarly, no matter what their label is - osteo, physio or chiro.

Choosing What’s Right for You

While these therapies have some similarities, their unique approaches might make one a more suitable choice for you.

For example, if you are experiencing spinal discomfort, a chiropractor, with their specialised focus on spinal alignment, could be an appropriate choice. Physiotherapy, with its emphasis on specific injuries and recovery, might be suitable if you're recovering from a sports injury or post-operative rehabilitation.

In contrast, an osteopath, with their holistic approach, might be your go-to if your condition is complex, involving multiple body areas or if you prefer a whole-body perspective to your treatment.

At Matrix Health & Performance in East Ivanhoe, we believe in the power of osteopathy to deliver comprehensive care, focusing on the individual as a whole, rather than just the symptoms.

However, all three disciplines have their strengths and can provide significant benefits depending on your individual circumstances.

Closing Thoughts

In summary, osteopathy, physiotherapy, and chiropractic are all health professions dedicated to enhancing your well-being. The best choice depends on your specific needs, personal preferences, and the nature of your condition.

If you're unsure as to whether an osteopath can help you, or whether you'd be best to see a physiotherapist or a chiropractor - give us a call. We'd be happy to discuss your situation and give you the best advice.

I'm biased, but I think osteo's are best!

Dr Nicholas Giovas (Osteopath)

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