There are many medical fields that deal with body pain, and many patients often ask if they should visit a chiropractor, an osteopath or an orthopedist. While these professions seem related to each other, they are actually different health practices, each with their own specific specialties.
Chiropractors, osteopaths and orthopedic doctors specialize in different things, thus the best health provider for you will depend greatly on your condition or injury. Before making a decision, it is important to understand what chiropractors, osteopaths and orthopedists do and what makes them different from each other so you can easily choose the right health care professional.
Chiropractors are individuals who treat conditions related to the musculoskeletal system. They are also called D.C.s or Doctors of Chiropractic. D.C.s deal with pains and discomfort relating to the bones, muscles, ligaments, joints and nerves. Most of them treat pain conditions in close proximity to the spine. However, they also specialize in musculoskeletal pain on the various extremities of the body.
The profession is well established in the United States and is the third largest health profession field after medicine and dentistry.
What Do Chiropractors Do? The chiropractic approach is non-pharmacological in nature. Professionals make use of their hands or various instruments to manipulate joints, muscles, ligaments and other affected area. Most treatment plans involve several sessions of manipulation.
Aside from manual adjustment and manipulation, they may also provide counseling to their patients. Chiropractors do not prescribe medication, but may usually recommend nutritional supplements or give suggestions on exercise and positive eating habits.
Chiropractor Training. To practice the profession, an individual needs a Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.) degree. Achieving this requires 4 years of post-graduate education after obtaining an associate’s degree. They will also need at least 500 hours of hands on experience and training for manipulations and adjustments.
An osteopath or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) is a medical professional who puts emphasis on the body’s self-healing ability. Osteopaths advocate a care approach that focuses on the «whole person.» They believe that physical problems and abnormalities affect the whole body. To help facilitate the healing process of the body, they make use of manipulative and manual therapy.
What Do Osteopaths Do? Like chiropractors, osteopaths also follow a natural approach to healing. They use a technique called osteopathic manipulative treatment or OMT. This technique allow them to use their hands to diagnose and treat injuries and painful conditions on the joins, ligaments and muscles.
D.O.s usually employ gentle forms of manipulation such as stretching and application of mild pressure on the affected areas. What makes the practice different from chiropractic is the fact that osteopaths can write prescriptions and do surgical procedures.
Osteopath Training. Obtaining a D.O. degree also requires 4 years of post graduate study after finishing a 4-year undergraduate degree.The degree requires students to go through at least a year of internship and rotations in hospitals. They can practice, prescribe medication and perform surgeries anywhere in the United States.
Orthopedists are surgeons that specialize in the musculoskeletal system. While they are surgeons in nature, they do not necessarily use surgery every time. They also employ nonsurgical means to treat muscle and trauma and injuries, degenerative diseases, tumors, infections and congenital disorders of the musculoskeletal system. The labels orthopedists and orthopedic surgeons are often used interchangeably and mean the same thing.
What Do Orthopedists Do?Orthopedic surgeons diagnose and treat various musculoskeletal problems. They diagnose conditions through physical exams, X-rays and other laboratory tests. Majority of the conditions are usually treated with non-surgical procedures like physical therapy, exercises or even pain management methods. In severe cases of pain disorders, orthopedists perform surgical treatments like joint replacement, soft tissue repair and arthroscopy.
In cases that do not require surgical procedure, orthopedists may recommend patients to see physical therapists or osteopaths for therapy or manipulation. Because orthopedic surgeons are Medical Doctors (M.D.s) by profession, they can write prescriptions for their patients.
Orthopedic Training. Orthopedic surgeons are required to complete a four year undergraduate degree and four years of medical school. Medical school graduates then have to undergo a five-year residency training to specialize in surgery. The five-year training consists of one year for general surgery and four years for orthopedic surgery.
Who Should I See?
Finding the right health care provider can be confusing for first time patients. Who you choose to see will greatly depend on your condition and the kind of approach you prefer. An osteopath is a good choice if you want holistic treatment. If you have acute back pain or pain caused by injury or trauma, a visit to a chiropractor may be a good idea. An orthopedic surgeon, on the other hand, may be recommended for extreme cases of pain or those caused by other underlying physical conditions.
Dr. John Holland