What Are the Differences Between Chiropractors, Osteopaths, and Physiotherapists?

Dr. James - Orthopaedic Surgeon in Singapore

Medically reviewed by Dr. James Tan

Pinpointing your pain and deciding which type of doctor to see is not always a simple task. Treating aches and pains comes with a whole new set of vocabulary. When it comes to choosing good specialists for pain, people are often confused by the difference between a chiropractor, osteopath, and physiotherapist. Which is the right doctor for you? To help you get on the right path, let’s look at the basics and clear up some common misconceptions.

Here is your complete guide to the difference between chiropractors, osteopaths, and physiotherapists.

Looking for expert help to decide on the right healthcare specialist for you? Jump over to our contact page for a quick call or chat to help you make the right choice.

What Is a Chiropractor?

Chiropractic care is an often misunderstood field. While some people swear by the benefits of chiropractors, others say that it’s a dangerous pseudoscience. So, what is the truth about chiropractors?

There is one clear reason why opinions on chiropractors vary so much, and that is because they are unregulated. According to the Singapore Ministry of Health (MOH), “Chiropractors, who are not registered medical practitioners under the Medical Registration Act (MRA), cannot practise medicine as doctors.”

While you might see some chiropractors advertising themselves as doctors, they are not recognised by the government of Singapore. Although certain countries outside of Singapore may award qualifications, they are not valid here. For better or worse, this means that anyone in Singapore, regardless of their qualification and education, can label themselves as a chiropractor. The title is simply not meaningful here.

In 2011, the Singapore government passed a law regulating allied health professionals. This included physiotherapists and other healthcare professionals. As chiropractors are considered to be part of complementary and alternative medicine, rather than conventional medical treatment, they were excluded from this legislation. While some argue that it is better to regulate the field to create a level of safety and reliability, chiropractors in Singapore remain outside the reach of the law. This creates a risk for those who visit chiropractors as there is no guarantee of their abilities to treat issues.

Related read: What Is the Difference Between a Chiropractor and an Orthopaedic Doctor?

What Do Chiropractors Do?

Chiropractors use their hands to manually treat issues with bones, muscles, and joints. They use spinal manipulation to reduce pain in muscles and joints such as knee injuries and lower back pain. These spinal adjustments are believed to increase blood flow and improve the connection between nerves, joints, and muscles. As there is no set education for chiropractors, however, each practitioner may have their own unique treatment plan.

When You Should and Shouldn’t See a Chiropractor

As chiropractors lack official medical qualifications, it is important to not rely on chiropractic care as your primary point of medical care. While including complementary care in your medical care plan is a personal decision, it is crucial to always see a medical doctor for a complete exam when you’re facing an issue. For example, if you suspect a serious injury in your hips or feel pain in your foot, it is advisable to look for a doctor who can do X-rays or a CT Scan.

What Is an Osteopath?

Osteopaths are specialists who practise osteopathy, the treatment of muscle tissue and bones. Healthcare professionals specialising in osteopathy focus on preventing and treating issues through a treatment plan on movements and massages on key muscles and joints. 

Osteopaths often specialise in specific parts of the body and medical conditions. You will find osteopathic medicinal practitioners in the areas of anesthesiology, dermatology, emergency medicine, paediatric care, surgery, and other specialities.

When You Should and Shouldn’t See an Osteopath

All osteopathic medicine practitioners are overseen by Singapore’s Allied Health Professions Council and the Ministry of Health. They are trained to assess, diagnose, and treat a wide range of conditions.

An osteopath works with treating sports injuries, knee pain management, pregnancy-related pain, as well as aches in ankles and pain in the wrists that are related to ageing. They can treat shoulder and neck pain, as well as pain in the lower back, elbow, pelvis, hips, and legs, as well as any other joint or muscle pain.

While osteopaths can provide life-changing pain relief solutions, they are focused on chronic pain and muscle fatigue. If are dealing with intense acute pain, it is recommended to opt for emergency care. Whether it is from an accident such as a whiplash injury or the pain just came on suddenly, don’t ignore it. “Better safe than sorry” is always a smart motto when it comes to healthcare. Pain is an important signal from your body that something is wrong.

What Is a Physiotherapist?

A physiotherapist is an accredited specialist who conducts complete physical assessments to diagnose health issues and create a treatment plan for physical therapy. Physiotherapists often work in collaboration with other healthcare professionals. This ensures that each professional is working within their specialisation to create a holistic approach at each stage of treatment. Like an osteopath, a physiotherapist works with conditions related to injury, disease, and ageing. They utilise physical movements to heal and prevent pain.

Shoulder pain and rotator cuff tears are another common condition that can affect your daily activities. Our team can provide a range of treatments, including physiotherapy and rehabilitation exercises, to help you recover from shoulder injuries and also dislocation. People often prefer physiotherapy instead of orthopaedic surgery. However, depending on the patient’s underlying cause and symptoms, the doctor may recommend PRP treatment or orthopaedic surgery. Take a look at our physiotherapy vs orthopaedic surgery article to learn more and choose the right treatment method for you.

When You Should and Shouldn’t See a Physiotherapist

Physiotherapists can help you with any type of pain or discomfort. Whether it is an old injury or a new one, you don’t simply have to live with pain. Whenever you are dealing with pain on any scale, a physiotherapist can help you. While it is easy to dismiss aches and pains as a side effect of ageing, there is no reason to live with pain, especially if you are prone to knee injuries due to age. Regardless of your age and physical health, physiotherapists can help. They will be able to offer you essential lifestyle advice, show you key types of stretches, and prescribe transformational exercises.

Knee injuries are more common as you age, and if you suspect you may have injured your knee, it is best to visit our clinic for a proper diagnosis of torn meniscus or even customised treatment for ACL tears.

What Is the Difference Between a Chiropractor, Osteopath, and Physiotherapist?

When it comes to the difference between chiropractors, osteopaths, and physiotherapists, a key difference is in accreditation. Chiropractors stand out from the group as being unregulated. Meanwhile, the differences between osteopaths and physiotherapists can be less obvious.

While osteopathy is generally more hands-on with a range of spinal and joint manipulations,  physiotherapists are concentrated on physical movement. Osteopathy is often focused on the specific area of injury while physiotherapists typically work with the full body. Choosing between an osteopath, and a physiotherapist can be tricky before diagnosis. Though physiotherapy specifically is concentrated on injuries related to illness and ageing, osteopaths treat muscle cramps and joint problems such as shoulder injuries with massage and manipulation to boost shoulder mobility and reduce pain.

Choosing Between a Chiropractor, Osteopath, and Physiotherapist in Singapore

It is recommended to stop doing any strenuous activities such as F45 or HIIT workouts if you’re experiencing pain. When it comes to choosing between a chiropractor, osteopath, and physiotherapist, it is smart to talk to a healthcare professional. While undergoing treatment, it is possible to do light workouts like yoga or jogging from time to time.

In addition to physiotherapy, we also specialise in treating other musculoskeletal conditions, such as tennis elbow pain treatment. Here at Ray of Health, our Singapore offices work with a wide range of specialists, and we can help you get started on the path to recovery. Schedule an appointment today.

If you’d like to find us directly, visit one of our clinics below:

Camden Medical

1 Orchard Boulevard, #09-06

Singapore 248649

Mount Alvernia Hospital

820 Thomson Road

Medical Centre D #05-60

Singapore 574623

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Dr. James - Orthopaedic Surgeon in Singapore

About the Author

Dr James Tan is a skilled orthopaedic surgeon who has more than 10 years of experience in sports surgery and exercise medicine. He is a member of the elite Asian Shoulder and Elbow Group and a founding member of the Singapore Shoulder and Elbow Surgery Society.

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