A question that I regularly get asked is, “What is the difference between a Chiropractor and a Physiotherapist?” So I thought that it would be a good idea to write a blog on this to hopefully clear this up.
The first thing is that some people believe that Physio’s don’t treat spinal problems, which is crazy because this is the most common thing treated by Physiotherapists. On occasion, I have been treating a patient with say Tennis elbow or a knee injury and they say to me ” I need to go to see a Chiropractor about my bad back.” Which prompts me to say, ” You do know that Physiotherapists treat backs?”
“Really? You treat backs too?” is the response back to me.
“Yes, we do!”
So what is Physiotherapy?
So according to the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP), Physiotherapy helps to restore people’s movement & function concerning injury, illness or disability. It is available to all age groups from the very young to old age. Physio helps people with movement, exercise, manual therapy, education & advice to enable maintenance or improvement of health, helping to manage pain & prevent injury & disease. Physiotherapy encourages and facilitates recovery to normal function to enable people to stay in work and assisting the independence of people for as long as possible.
Physiotherapy is an evidence-based profession and is heavily regulated to remain up to date with the latest research and expert thinking. Since the human body is complex and intertwined then Physiotherapy looks at the ‘whole person’ focussing on health and wellbeing and people’s entire lifestyle. Another cornerstone of Physio is to empower the patient in their care by educating them and assisting them to participate in the solutions to their issues.
As I mentioned earlier, Physiotherapy helps with back pain, cumulative or sudden injuries, long-term conditions for both the general public as a whole and even sportspeople.
You need either an undergraduate degree in Physiotherapy or a post-graduate masters degree in Physiotherapy. Physio is very broad and has its own specialities. Below are the main areas of Physiotherapy:
Respiratory (cystic fibrosis, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and more)
Neurological (stroke, Parkinson’s multiple sclerosis and more)
Cardiovascular (chronic heart disease, cardiac rehabilitation and more)
I have been trained on my degree and worked in a hospital setting in all of these areas before specialising into the Neuromuscular area. It is this area that I shall be comparing against Chiropractic treatment because the other areas are vastly different to it.
So what is Chiropractic care?
According to the British Chiropractic Association (BCA), Chiropractic care employs a variety of techniques aimed at reducing pain, improving function and improving mobility. Chiropractors main treatments include hands-on manipulation of the spine amongst other types of manual treatment. Chiropractors look holistically, to provide advice on self-help, therapeutic exercises and lifestyle.
Chiropractic treatment involves safe, often gentle, specific spinal manipulation to free joints in the spine or other body parts to get them moving properly. Apart from manipulation, which is what Chiropractors are famous for, other treatments such as ice, heat, ultrasound, exercise and acupuncture can be used and they can offer advice about posture and lifestyle.
So what is the difference between a Chiropractor and a Physiotherapist then?
It would appear from what I have said above that basically, things are very similar, but looking a little deeper it is more the balance of the different elements. For example, Physiotherapists can and do perform manipulations, mobilisation and massage etc. just like a Chiropractor but the subtle difference is that the weighted importance is different. Physiotherapy would consider the advice, exercise and self-management to be the cornerstone of a patients care and the manual techniques are there to assist that process. Evidence shows little benefits to scanning or X-raying people in the early days and so as per NICE guidelines and research, scans are not requested much at all. On the flip side, Chiropractors consider manual therapy, in particular manipulation, to be the cornerstone of a patients care and although they do offer self-management, advice and exercise these would be there to complement the manual therapy. With regards scans or X-rays, they seem to get utilised more in Chiropractic care than Physio but these are generalisations and all practitioners will differ. There is likely a Physio somewhere right at this moment who is purely focussed on manual therapy and doesn’t give a second thought to self-management, advice and exercise and at the same time there may be a Chiropractor who is very much focused on self-management, advice and exercise with very little focus on manual therapy or manipulation.
Choosing a Physio or a Chiropractor is an individual choice and what works for somebody, works for somebody. Previous experience and expectations make a huge difference in treatment outcomes. The main thing to take from this is that the differences are small and if anything it’s the cornerstone focusses being different but not in all cases.
The content in this blog article is provided for general information purposes only and is not meant to replace a physiotherapy or medical consultation.