DO vs Chiropractor: What Are the Differences and Who Should I See?

The medical world is full of specialists, all of which have different levels of training, experience, and approaches to how they administer patient care. When it comes to finding medical care that’s best for you, it’s essential to find a specialist that is best equipped to treat your issues.

But, with so many specialty spine physicians, which is best for you to see?

For spine issues, many patients are referred to see either a DO (Doctor of Osteopathy) or a Chiropractor. Both are well-versed in spine health and can help with back pain. But determining who’s the right choice for you can be difficult.

Today we’ll discuss some of the significant similarities and differences between the two professions, what that means for you, and, hopefully, help you make a decision between a DO vs chiropractor.

What Is the Difference Between an Osteopath and Chiropractor?

chiropractic adjustment

Grasping the difference between these two fields can be frustrating. This is mainly because they are so similar. But, there are critical differences to consider.

First, we’ll look at what they share:

Osteopathy vs. Chiropractic: How They Are Similar?

  • Emphasis on the spine: In both professions, there is a strong emphasis on spine health. Under this guiding principle, the human spine is closely linked to other systems in the body, including the nervous system. Optimal spine health is good for blood flow and the musculoskeletal system.
  • Similar background/history: When it comes to osteopathy vs. chiropractic origins, both fields came to prominence during the late 19th century. The chiropractic profession was founded in 1895, while osteopathy was a couple of decades earlier in the 1870s.
  • A focus on alleviating pain: Both of these disciplines are directly focused on addressing patient pain. Specifically, the main goal of both is to alleviate aches and pains in the body.
  • Diagnostic technique: Both professions focus on spine health and the back. Both often diagnose their patients by touching or examining various areas of the back.

DO vs. Chiropractor: How Do They Differ?

Now that you have a better understanding of what an osteopath vs. chiropractic has in common, we’ll look at how they differ.

Nature of Appointments

First, they differ in how they see you. If you visit an osteopath, you’ll likely spend more time there than you would during a chiropractor visit. Osteopaths work with patients on a broader scale, while chiropractors tend to focus on small issues that can be addressed more quickly.

Osteopaths often spread their patient visits out over time. Chiropractors see patients more frequently.

Areas of Focus

Although both fields place emphasis on the spine, they do differ slightly in areas of focus.

  • Chiropractors conduct spinal adjustments on the body. These adjustments can improve alignment, enhance the function of the body, and regenerate overall health. This includes solving issues such as pinched nerves or problems with vertebrae.
  • Osteopaths tend to take a more holistic approach. They have extra training to understand the musculoskeletal system. In turn, they have a better understanding of the entire body. DOs also have training in osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT), which allows them to use their hands to stretch and apply gentle pressure and/or resistance to improve motion and health.

Diagnostic Testing

Diagnostic testing is another key difference between these two areas.

Osteopaths rely heavily on physical examinations. They may perform certain diagnostic procedures with patients. But more often than not, they will refer their patients to external offices for extra diagnostic tests.

Chiropractors are more likely to make wide use of diagnostic testing, including MRI scans and X-rays.

Types of Issues They Address

Both professions have issues that they may gravitate towards more than others. Because chiropractors work primarily with the spine and its alignment, they deal with muscle and joint pain.

Osteopaths take a look at the whole body and how the spine is linked to structure. Because of this, they are familiar with a broader range of issues.

DOs vs MDs

lower back pain adjustment

In this discussion, it’s also important to take a look at how DOs differ from MDs (Doctor of Medicine). Both are considered physicians and have the option to practice in various fields, whether that be cardiology, dermatology, or another specialty.


When it comes to education, both DOs and MDs must attend medical school for four years. This is followed by several more years of internships, residencies, and fellowships. Both must also pass a state licensing exam that allows them to practice in all 50 states.

Chiropractors, on the other hand, have different training. After undergrad, they attend a 4-5 year chiropractic college. They must also pass a licensing exam. Unlike DOs and MDs, chiropractors can’t perform surgeries or prescribe medicine.

Holistic v. Non-Holistic Approach

As discussed before, DOs tend to take a holistic approach to healthcare. Alternatively, MDs don’t always take this approach. Instead, most MDs take a non-holistic approach and focus solely on the present symptoms.

MDs are also not trained to use OMT as part of their practice like DOs are.

Your Issues Should Determine Which Professional You See

If you’re stuck considering a DO vs. a Chiropractor, it’s best to go with the one that aligns most with your needs.

Some final questions to consider are —

  • What types of injury am I experiencing?
  • Are my injuries specific to my back, or do they expand to other parts of my body?
  • What originally caused my injury?
  • Is it possible I may require surgery?
  • What approach do I gravitate toward more, considering my issues?

Final Thoughts

Of course, this is a personal choice, but there are still other people you can seek advice from.

Discuss your dilemma with your PCP. They know your health and history much better than either of the new docs you’re going to visit.

You can also share your options with friends and family who have had similar experiences and may be in an educated or experienced position to offer you advice.

What’s most important is that you educate yourself and take proactive action to start living the healthiest life possible.

If you are in the Sacramento, CA, area, and feel chiropractic care may be for you, visit Dr. Doug Loehrer at Sunrise Chiropractic!


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