Osteopaths and chiropractors are both healthcare professionals who treat various conditions by manipulating your body. They share some treatment practices but differ in their training, their ability to prescribe medications, and the conditions they treat.

Osteopaths attend college and then osteopathic medical school, where they earn their doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) degree. Following medical school, they complete 3–8 years of hands-on training in a clinical setting. They must also pass a board certification exam and receive a state license.

These professionals study the entire body and how body systems work together. They receive specialized training on muscles, nerves, and the skeletal system and learn to evaluate an individual’s lifestyle and environment as part of treatment. Osteopaths can prescribe medications. They may use stretching and body manipulation in the course of treatment.

Chiropractors attend college and then earn a 4-year doctor of chiropractic degree. They must pass the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners test and get a state-issued license.

They focus on treating the entire body by manually manipulating muscles and bones, often in the spine. These treatments are called adjustments and may include stretching, pressure, or a quick thrust from the hand to realign a joint.

Here’s a brief comparison of osteopaths and chiropractors:

Osteopath Chiropractor
Titledoctor of osteopathy (DO) doctor of chiropractic (DC)
Trainingcollege, osteopathic medical school, 3–8 years of clinical trainingcollege and 4 years of specialized study
Treatment stylestretching and body manipulation along with imaging and medicationmuscle and joint manipulation to realign the spine and maintain healthy nerves
Certificationboard certified and state licensedboard certified and state licensed
Prescribing privilegescan prescribe medicationscannot prescribe medications

Osteopaths believe in looking beyond symptom management to address lifestyle or environmental factors that may be causing a condition. They receive specialized training in the body’s nervous and musculoskeletal systems, as well as how to manipulate joints and muscles to restore movement and relieve pain. They also use imaging, medication, and other scientific advancements to diagnose conditions and provide treatment.

Conditions they treat

Osteopaths treat many conditions but are perhaps best known for treating musculoskeletal conditions, including:

Chiropractors use gentle manipulation and quick thrusts of hand pressure to the spine and other joints to release trapped nerves, restore the health of the nervous system, and ease pain.

Conditions they treat

Chiropractors usually treat issues that stem from the muscles or skeletal system. These may include:

Some chiropractors may claim to treat other conditions like menstrual cramps or high blood pressure. However, no research shows a clear benefit of chiropractic manipulation for conditions unrelated to the musculoskeletal system, according to the National Center of Complementary and Integrative Health.

The American Osteopathic Association maintains a database that allows you to search for an osteopath in your area.

The American Chiropractic Association also maintains a searchable database on its website.

On each site, enter your city or ZIP code to search for a healthcare professional near you.

Which is better, a chiropractor or an osteopath?

While chiropractors can help with musculoskeletal problems, osteopaths have advanced training in integrated bodily systems. Osteopaths can also prescribe medications when they are necessary.

When should I see an osteopath versus a chiropractor?

Chiropractic treatment can be effective for pain that comes from the back and neck, including headaches and sciatica.

An osteopath can treat other joint and muscular pain throughout the entire body, plus examine lifestyle and environmental factors that may contribute to injury or illness.

An osteopath may also be considered a primary care professional and can consult with other medical specialists when you need a multidimensional approach to treatment.

What is the difference between osteopathic manipulation and chiropractic adjustment?

Both osteopaths and chiropractors use spinal manipulation in treatment. This involves applying pressure and a quick thrust with the hands to one or more places along the spine to align vertebrae.

Osteopaths also use osteopathic manipulation. This involves stretching, leverage of muscles and limbs, muscle activation, and joint movement.

What are the disadvantages of osteopathy?

The quality of osteopathic manipulation can vary greatly depending on the doctor’s training, how often they perform manipulation, and their experience level. There can also be a great deal of difference in how one doctor performs manipulation and how another does it, based on their training.

In addition, you might have more difficulty accessing or finding an osteopath versus a chiropractor.

Osteopathy and chiropractic care are both complementary forms of medicine that focus on restoring the body to a disease or injury-free state through muscle and bone manipulation.

The differences between osteopaths and chiropractors start with their training.

A doctor of osteopathy attends medical school, while a chiropractor attends a specialized chiropractic program. An osteopath will undergo 3–8 years of clinical training following medical school.

Both osteopaths and chiropractors use muscle and skeletal manipulation.

Chiropractors focus more on the spine and on treating back, neck, and head pain. Osteopaths can treat many conditions but will also use body manipulation to restore alignment and relieve pain.

Osteopaths may also be primary care providers in some cases and can prescribe medications, but chiropractors cannot.