What’s the difference between a Physiotherapist, Chiropractor and Osteopath?

What’s the difference between a Physiotherapist, Chiropractor and Osteopath?

By Dr Marcus Ng – Osteopath in Sydney CBD

This is by far the most common question I get asked when patients come into see me at the clinic. Personally, I find there are far more similarities than there are differences, furthermore the difference are ultimately only in principle and philosophy. All three professions are performing non-invasive, manual therapy to improve the structure and function to the human body.

Non-invasive is defined as any technique that doesn’t break the surface of the skin. Therefore, this would not include Dry Needling / Acupuncture for the purpose of this article. I do perform dry needling as required from time to time.

Manual therapy is defined as any technique affecting the muscles and joints such as massage, stretching and manipulation (aka adjustments, HVLA, cracking).

Are Physiotherapist’s, Osteopath’s and Chiropractor’s regulated?

In Australia, all three professions are regulated by the government via the Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Agency (AHPRA).

Is there a difference in treatment?

At the beginning of any treatment, all three professions should provide a thorough history taking and relevant orthopaedic and neurological assessment. Based on those results, a provisional diagnosis is formed and a treatment plan is provided before the commencement of any treatment.

The techniques within the treatment itself will largely depend on the practitioner’s field of study and experience. The benefits of any technique should always outweigh the risk.

All three professions should be able to address most aspects of your musculoskeletal conditions. Referral to other specialist should always be an option should they not be able to provide sufficient care.

So they are the things all three professions have in common. Now lets look at their difference…


Broadly speaking, physiotherapy comes from the perspective of exercise rehabilitation. It aims to improve any mechanical deficits a person may have. Physiotherapists tend to deal with a lot of sporting injuries affecting peripheral joints, such as shoulder or knee injuries.

Sydney CBD Chiropractor Dr Steven Tran


The chiropractic perspective is based on spinal adjustments/manipulation, aiming to have a positive change to the body through affecting the nervous system via the spine.

Dr Abbey Davidson Osteopath Sydney CBD


Osteopathy comes from perspective that the body is a unit and should be treated as a whole. We tend to use a combination of soft-tissue techniques and manipulation to cause a positive change to the body.

It should be noted; practitioners of each discipline are not limited to only using certain techniques… As long as they have the proper training behind it, they can perform it where they deem it necessary and beneficial. So how do you choose a practitioner?

Which practitioner should I choose?

Ultimately, the differences in between practitioners is less to do with their profession and more to do with their particular areas of interest , experience and qualifications.


Some practitioners have a lot of experience managing sporting injuries, and as they have an interest in a particular sport- they have over time developed into the ‘go-to’ practitioner for injuries in that specific sport.

Special Interests

Other practitioners may have had less experience with sporting injuries, however have developed an interest in assisting patients who are experiencing chronic pain. This may be a result of personal experience with chronic pain, or simply because they have worked in a clinic where many people have presented with chronic pain over the years- resulting in them becoming the ‘go-to’ practitioner for those experiencing chronic pain.


As such, when choosing a practitioner, it’s best to choose not only based on the practitioners specific qualification, but on their experience and expertise assisting patients who have had similar experiences to yours.

At Quay Health, we are a multi-disciplinary clinic, practitioners from all modalities are encouraged to collaborate, learn and share with each other.

We share our strengths in clinical assessment, diagnosis, treatment and management plan. All this ensures we are providing the best care for our patients, no matter which modality you seek.

If you have any further questions please call us on (02) 9252-2825.

Sydney CBD Osteopaths Dr Marcus Ng, Dr David Aboud and Dr Abbey Davidson are all experienced in treating conditions of the Wrist and Forearm