Chiropractors vs Physiotherapists: When and Who to Choose
One of the most common questions people ask chiropractors is how they differ from physiotherapists.
Your family member may recommend a chiropractor for your persistent neck pain while your co-worker promises their physiotherapist will do the trick.
In reality, there are a number of similarities when it comes to chiropractors vs. physiotherapists.
Both practitioners treat musculoskeletal issues and must complete a university course to practise in their respective fields.
The main differentiating factors between the two modalities are the theories behind each practice.
So, which is right for you?
In this guide, we take a look at chiropractors vs physiotherapists, explaining what they are and how they can work for you.
What’s the Difference Between a Chiropractor and Physiotherapist?
While it might be tempting to randomly choose between a chiropractor and physiotherapist for a stiff neck or back, it’s best to get a foundational understanding of each practice.
This will save you time and money in the long-run and ensure you feel better as soon as possible.
Before we look at the differences between chiropractors vs physiotherapists, it’s important to understand the basics of each type of care.
What is a Physiotherapist?
A physiotherapist is an expert in exercise prescription and treatment of pain and injury.
The aim of physiotherapy is to maximise physical capacity through movement and manage pain areas. Physiotherapists use hands-on techniques and recommend exercise and lifestyle modifications to help your body function better and more comfortably.
Depending on your individual concern, your physiotherapist may use techniques such as joint mobilisation, soft tissue massage and manipulation in your treatment plan. They may also use special machines that promote healing.
Physiotherapy is commonly used to treat pain in the back and neck, as well as headaches and injuries from sport. Physiotherapy can also be used for cardiovascular and respiratory rehabilitation.
Your physiotherapist will draw upon research evidence, clinical experience and your individual symptom profile to formulate your treatment plan.
Physiotherapists are primary contact physicians, meaning they are considered experts in the musculoskeletal conditions.
What is a Chiropractor?
Chiropractors treat issues related to the spine and neuro-musculoskeletal system.
Chiropractic care takes a holistic approach to treating pain, which can include nutritional, lifestyle and exercise recommendations. The practice is heavily focused on the relationship between the nervous system and the rest of the body.
Your chiropractor will likely take you through a number of exercises and imaging tests (such as X-Ray and MRI) to diagnose your pain and formulate a treatment plan.
They will often use manual therapeutic techniques — such as spinal adjustments and manipulations, mobilisations, muscle and soft tissue massage and electro therapies — and specialised machines, such as a TENS machine, to help treat your pain.
Chiropractors vs Physiotherapists: The Similarities
Chiropractors and physiotherapists share a number of similarities, which is why they may seem difficult to distinguish from one another.
- They are both focused on managing pain using non-invasive (meaning non-surgical) methods
- They both utilise hands-on therapy to treat various issues
- They both focus on the holistic picture (including lifestyle, movement, dietary, behavioural) to treat your pain
- Physiotherapists and chiropractors will assess your medical history, examine you and order tests to diagnose your pain and devise a treatment plan
- To be practised legally, they both require education and training
Chiropractors vs Physiotherapists: The Differences
While there are many similarities between the two, there are also differences between chiropractors vs physiotherapists.
Understanding these differentiating factors can help you decide which technique is better suited to you.
- Physiotherapy focuses primarily on pain-free movement, while chiropractic care focuses on pain relief and spine realignment.
- Physiotherapy is focused on function and movement usually after an injury or surgery, while chiropractors focus on diagnosing, treating and preventing musculoskeletal issues.
- Physiotherapy looks at how your body functions as a whole, while chiropractic care mostly focuses on back, neck and joint pain, and headaches.
- Physiotherapists will help you perform stretches and occasionally use manual therapy, while chiropractors almost always use manual therapy and adjustments to help your body heal.
- Physiotherapists work in many healthcare environments and some offer home visits, while chiropractors typically operate out of clinics as they require special spaces and equipment.
Chiropractor vs Physiotherapist: Which Should You See?
Unfortunately, there’s no straightforward winner in the chiropractor vs physiotherapist debate.
Your choice will depend on your specific concerns and how you feel about the theory and approach for each treatment.
It’s also worth noting that you can receive both forms of care at the same time, as long as both practitioners are aware of this.
It may be useful to reach out to a chiropractor and physiotherapist to hear a bit more about how they can treat your pain or discomfort.
….What About the Difference Between Chiropractors, Physiotherapists, and Osteopaths?
Yes, there’s a third option to choose from!
In addition to chiropractors vs physiotherapists, osteopaths also help to treat pain and discomfort in the body.
So, where do osteopaths come into the picture?
What is an Osteopath?
Osteopaths use manual therapy to relieve pain and discomfort that may present in various areas of the body.
Osteopathy focuses on the functioning of the skeleton, joints, muscles, nerves, and connective tissue.
The practice views the body as a whole, taking a big-picture approach to the issue you are presenting with.
Your osteopath may use massaging, stretching, joint and muscle manipulation, myofascial release and dry needling to address your pain. They may also suggest lifestyle changes to complement your treatment plan.
Osteopathy is typically sought in people suffering with lower back pain, inflammatory conditions, work-related injuries and mobility issues.
Osteopaths are doctors of osteopathic medicine (also known as DOs). This means that people practising osteopathy have completed a bachelor’s degree, then four years of osteopathic medical school, as well as a residency.
Take a look at our deep-dive into osteos vs chiros.
Do I Need a Chiropractor or Osteopath?
This will depend on your individual condition, whether imaging is required, and how you feel about both treatment methods.
The main difference between chiropractors and osteopaths is that chiropractors focus on the spine and surrounding tissues, while osteopaths look at the broader skeletal system, treating areas that aren’t directly related to the spine.
Chiropractors often utilise X-ray and MRI machines to get a closer look at your spine and surrounding structures. These images help them diagnose and effectively treat your pain.
On the other hand, osteopaths usually determine a diagnosis through a physical exam.
When deciding who to see, you’ll need to ask yourself where the pain is located and whether or not other areas of the body are affected by your pain.
As mentioned, it’s best to chat with a chiropractor and osteopath before making your decision. This will help you get a better idea of what each practitioner can do for you.
Chiropractors vs Physiotherapists: Treating Your Pain at MyChiro
Both chiropractors and physiotherapists will be able to manage your pain using non-surgical methods.
They will both focus on a holistic treatment plan that includes a thorough medical history review, examination, tests, hands-on therapy and lifestyle adjustments.
Your chiropractor will be able to provide pain relief and spine realignment through spinal manipulation and additional manual therapies.
Have another question about chiropractic vs physiotherapists? The team at MyChiro are here to help. Contact us to learn more about our services and how we can get you back to doing what you love, pain-free.