Physiotherapy vs Chiropractic

What Is The Difference And Which One Do You Need?

We get asked about the difference between physiotherapy and chiropractic ALL THE TIME, and for good reason. When making a decision about who to seek treatment from, on first glance, it can be difficult to determine the difference between these two professions. Much of the well meaning, but conflicting advice comes from friends and family who ‘swear by’ physio and others who rely on their chiropractor

I have written this blog post to give you background information about the two professions to help you decide which type of care is best for you. It is based on research, the opinions of the author and many thousands of conversations with patients and many long philosophical discussions with both Physiotherapists and Chiropractors in the past. I hope it’s helpful to you.

Let’s get into the details to help you make the best healthcare choice for your body, your needs and your beliefs!

Let’s Start With The Similarities

The truth is that physiotherapy and chiropractic have a growing number of similarities. We both treat musculoskeletal conditions and we both have years of training and the need to have completed an accredited university course by Australian regulations.

We both have essentially the same goals;

Physiotherapy is primarily aimed at improving the movement and function of your joints and muscles to get you back to normal mobility after an injury and to optimise your movement throughout life. They focus on exercises to improve motor control, flexibility, mobility and strength. It is worth noting there is a wide variety of Physiotherapy specialties, from Neurology to Cardiopulmonary Physios; Women’s Health to Paediatric. For the sake of this discussion we will focus primarily on Musculoskeletal Physiotherapy, as it is the one most commonly confused with Chiropractic.

Chiropractic care is primary aimed at the removal and prevention of musculoskeletal-related problems. They focus on restoring normal functional movement to the spine and strengthening the surrounding structures.

We both have the following overlapping qualities:

  • We both use manual techniques (meaning techniques with our hands)
  • There are many problem areas that we both commonly treat including lower back pain, neck pain, headaches and spinal alignment problems.
  • We both have the same goal, to help you feel better!

Some Obvious Differences

#1 – Their Origins and Philosophies

The most significant difference between physiotherapy and chiropractic is the underlying philosophy of each profession. Often your decision regarding which practitioner to see will be based on the philosophy that sits most comfortably with you.

These underlying Philosophy’s stem back to the origins of each profession. The science of Physiotherapy is believed to have been practiced as early as 400 BC by Hippocrates and Galen physicians. These early ‘Physiotherapists’ used manual therapy techniques, massage, and hydrotherapy methods in treating their patients. Where as the history of Chiropractic began in 1895 with Daniel Palmer who is the first recorded practitioner to perform a chiropractic adjustment.

#2 – How This Has Shaped Their Roles Today

Physiotherapists are primary contact practitioners, which means they are considered experts in the assessment and diagnosis of musculoskeletal conditions. You do not need a referral from a GP to see them and they have a ‘first contact’ role in identifying, treating and managing injuries in many settings including the Emergency Department, Out Patient Clinics and Private Practice. They draw upon the best research evidence available, clinical experience, patient values, expectations and preferences to choose treatment techniques that achieve the most optimal outcome.

Chiropractors are considered alternative or complimentary health care professionals. This difference means that you will not see them working directly inside an Allied Health Team. And a general physician (GP) nor surgeon can refer to a Chiropractor. Instead they are often sought out by patients who wish to seek alternative or complimentary care on their own accord.

#3 – The Scope Of Their Practice

It is important to recognise that Physiotherapists work in various settings. They assist with post operative care in hospital, spinal cord and brain injury rehabilitation, cardiac rehabilitation, pulmonary rehabilitation and post operative rehabilitation in an out patient setting. They work with developmental delay in children, women’s health, the management of neurological disorders and the list goes on. So it is necessary to ensure you find the right Physiotherapists for your particular condition or concern.

Chiropractic care is less diverse and deals with the relationship between the nervous system and the rest of the body with the aim of providing good health. Therefore in injury/illness, the chiropractor will focus on realigning the spine with adjustment techniques (cracking) in an attempt to restore normal nervous system functioning.

So Which Is Best For Me?

It is important to recognise that both Physiotherapists and Chiropractors are very knowledgeable musculoskeletal practitioners who use non-invasive, drug free treatment modalities.

Whilst the underlying philosophy of each profession may differ, many people find that Physiotherapy and Chiropractic care compliment each other well. Others have a clear favourite and some are still on the fence.

An important note, try not to write off an entire profession after one negative experience. As with any occupation, there are those that excel and those that don’t. When choosing your practitioner look for those with significant experience, who have a team of support around them and come with excellent word of mouth recommendations. In today’s world of Google reviews and Social Media it is easy to see practitioners who are excelling and those who are not.

Most importantly, find someone that you trust and are comfortable with. Care of this nature is a very personal undertaking and it is imperative that you feel you can trust your practitioners!