Difference Between an Osteopath and a Chiropractor

Written by Stephen Sacks – Medically reviewed by Stephen Sacks – Last updated October 31, 2022

  • Historical difference – saving children vs. alleged patricide!
  • Practical difference

In delineating the clear differences between these two modalities, one MUST briefly look at their origins.

Andrew Taylor Still (1828-1917) was a medical doctor and surgeon in Virginia/Missouri who followed in his Methodist Minister and Physician father’s footsteps.  After losing his wife and 4 children to meningitis, he felt that there must be a better way to treat disease than the limited medicine at the time. Osteopathic medicine was born. Today an Osteopathic doctor (DO) in America is on equal footing to their medical doctor (MD) counterparts and are licenced to practice medicine and surgery in all 50 states and is accepted as authentic medicine. In the U.K. we have remained true to this holistic and safe medicine and, though we don’t prescribe etc. as in the U.S.A., I believe that our approach maintains the original principals.

Daniel David Palmer (1845-1913) was the originator of Chiropractic. He believed he received chiropractic from ‘another world’ from a deceased doctor. He had various jobs as a bookkeeper and grocer and teacher with an interest in magnetic healing and spiritualism. In 1906, Palmer was prosecuted for practicing medicine without a licence and was sentenced to a short term in prison. He sold the school of chiropractic to his son BJ and went on to set up more schools in California. DD Palmer, in 1899, credited the birth of Chiropractic to taking an expensive course in Osteopathy and thus for him, chiropractic is osteopathy gone to seed. BJ is alleged to have caused his father’s death by running him over with his car as they vehemently disagreed with each other on the course of the profession. His father filed a lawsuit against his son for attempted murder and he died two weeks later form injuries but was marked by the coroner as Typhoid. The courts exonerated BJ.

Still was a doctor who wanted a better form of medicine because he was devastated by the death of his family and went on to set up osteopathic medical universities to preserve a better and healthier life for others. Palmer was a magnetic healer who was controversial for his views on healing and claimed he received this form of medicine from the spiritual world. The former devastated by the death of his sons, the latter possibly killed by his son!

The practical difference between the two is both as clear as day and, at the same time, fine. Some practitioners from each strain have morphed into the other and you can now get some who practice together hand-in-hand. Traditionally, Chiropractors ‘crack’ only and osteopaths, who also manipulate joints, are more holistic, gentler and use different techniques and are more global in their view. This is not always as true as it once was and has changed depending on how true to tradition one is. As with many professions and ideas, doctors or therapists can have their own  benefits and advantages and the patient needs to find the best doctor for themselves. Clearly, I am wont to trust my profession as the best and am expected to do so.

*I chose Osteopathy as a profession after having weighed up physiotherapy and chiropractic and found this to be the most authentic that suits me and my patients. I wasn’t biased then, but I recognise I probably am now!