Osteopathy and chiropractic are holistic … or are they?

Many osteopaths and chiropractors claim that their treatment approach is more holistic than conventional medical treatment and that this therefore makes it “better”. Firstly, this makes the assumption that conventional medicine is not holistic. That’s actually an invalid assumption and more on that later. But are osteopathy and chiropractic really holistic? Holistic is defined as “dealing with or treating the whole of something or someone and not just a part” (source: Cambridge English Dictionary). Osteopaths and chiropractors treat the musculoskeletal system and only the musculoskeletal system. They cannot do anything about the other systems in the human body, such as the respiratory system, lymphatic system and cardiovascular system. How can a treatment that focuses on only one of the body’s systems ever be considered “holistic”? The short answer is that it can’t. Whilst osteopaths and chiropractors may look at different parts of the musculoskeletal system, it is impossible for an osteopath or chiropractor to treat holistically as there is so much of the body that they cannot treat.

Now let’s return to the question of whether conventional medicine is holistic. The NHS has some doctors who are “generalists” and some who are “specialists”. The generalists have a reasonable knowledge of a wide range of health conditions but don’t have deep expertise in any particular area. They then refer on to an appropriate specialist when more detailed knowledge of a particular condition is needed. This is an entirely natural and sensible way of setting up a healthcare system. After all, would you want your GP to treat you if you have cancer or someone with more specialist knowledge like an oncologist? In this case the GP might carry out initial investigations and tests but would always refer on to the right specialist. The “generalists” in the NHS are GPs (General Practitioners), paediatricians and geriatricians. They look after a patient’s holistic care, leaving the specialists (of which there are many different types) to focus on the areas where they have particular expertise. These generalists can, unlike osteopaths and chiropractors, be truly holistic as they are able to assess and treat all systems in the human body.

Now we are in a good position to answer the question “Is osteopathy or chiropractic holistic?” The answer is clearly “no” and it’s actually impossible for an osteopath or chiropractor to treat holistically. Any osteopath or chiropractor who claims that they treat holistically is misleading their patients and the general public. Conventional medicine on the other hand is very much holistic. If you want to be treated holistically, stay away from osteopathy and chiropractic and stick with the NHS instead.

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