What's The Difference Between A Chiropractor And A Physiotherapist?

What’s The Difference Between A Chiropractor And A Physiotherapist?

The Difference Between A Chiropractor And A Physiotherapist

What’s the difference between a chiropractor and a physiotherapist is a question I get asked by a several of my patients. Between an osteopath, physiotherapist and a chiropractor there is a lot of confusion with regards to what each health professional does, what differentiates one from the other and which type of treatment may be most beneficial for specific individual situations. In general, if someone has a tooth problem they see a dentist, a heart problem a cardiologist yet if you have a back problem who do you see? That question is not so straight forward, should you go see a chiropractor or a physiotherapist or is it a problem for an osteopath…?

Difference Between A Chiropractor And A Physiotherapist: The Stereotypical Physio

When considering the treatment approach of an osteopath, a chiropractor and a physiotherapist there is a lot of variation in how all three practice, but then there is also a lot of variation within the physiotherapy profession itself regarding the practice methods of individual physios. Stereotypically the generalized belief around what’s the difference between a chiropractor and a physiotherapist is that the use of soft tissue techniques is generally associated with a physio, whereas chiropractors prefer to treat primarily with spinal adjustments and an osteopath sits somewhere between the two seeing themselves as having a more holistic approach to treatment.
As with most stereotypes they are exactly that, a stereotype. This stereotype I find to be a generalization all three professions are likely to take offence to. Offending chiropractors, osteopaths and physiotherapists alike, chiropractors are trained to use soft tissue techniques just as physiotherapists are trained in chiropractic adjustments (what we term spinal manipulation), and I am almost positive no osteopath wishes to be pigeonholed in between the two of our bickering professions.

No Two Physiotherapists Are The Same

What this generalisation fails to address is that every individual patient and every individual complaint they have needs to be treated as such and just as no two physiotherapists are the same, no two physiotherapy sessions carried out by the one practitioner are likely to be exactly the same despite patients potentially having very similar complaints. All three professions are in the business of musculoskeletal care and skillfully assess, diagnose, and treat with the intention to relieve and prevent as appropriate mechanical disorders of the musculoskeletal system. Each individual practitioner within their individual profession carries similar yet slightly different skill sets with them and take these skill sets into every patient session they manage. Using to the best of their ability their knowledge and experience to provide what they believe will be the most appropriate, safe and beneficial treatment approach possible for that patient’s individual situation. Exactly what this looks like will vary at times slightly and other times greatly from one physio to the next and one profession to the other.

Why Can’t A Chiro Treat A Muscular Issue Or A Physio A Joint Issue?

Having previously worked alongside both osteopaths and chiropractors for several years, I have often had discussions with them regarding common clients who choose to see myself for their knee pain, the chiro for their neck complaint and then the osteopath for their pelvis issue. I think individually we all like to think we could have seen that particular patient for all three of their complaints, but this highlights the belief within the general public regarding the feelings around who does what. It all makes perfect sense, if perception is that physios are better with soft tissue injuries and osteopaths bone complaints why wouldn’t you choose to see the person who is “best” positioned to treat what you have going on.
Conversely, countless times I have had patients at the end of a session with me question as to if I was a chiropractor because I included some manipulation techniques similar to what they had previously experienced during a chiropractic consultation. Typically, I simply reply “no, I am a physio who uses manipulative techniques when I feel they are warranted and likely to be beneficial” which almost always leads to them asking the obvious question “what’s the difference between a chiropractor and a physiotherapist?” A question I seem to poorly fumble my way around answering, most likely leaving them no clearer on the topic. But then this is because there isn’t exactly a clear-cut answer, at least not one that I’m aware of.

It Isn’t A Physiotherapists Place To Comment On What A Chiropractor Or Osteopath Does Or Doesn’t Do?

It is not my place to comment on what chiropractors or osteopaths may or may not do, just as it isn’t my place to generalize and comment on what other treatment modalities and techniques another physiotherapist may use. Each individual practitioner has their own style of practice that works for them, methods that over the years they may have found achieves them the best results. So, what’s the difference between a chiropractor and a physiotherapist…? all these professions have highly trained and skilled practitioners with similar demands regarding continual professional development requirements for maintaining an annual registration practicing certificate. A physio, chiro and osteo are required to practice under the same laws and high standards governed by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).

Difference Between A Chiropractor And A Physiotherapist Myth: Physiotherapists Only Treat Locally

From a physiotherapy standpoint some chiropractors and osteopaths consider that as a profession physios tend to focus exclusively on treating the local area of injury only, providing treatment at the site of the patient’s complaint or injury disregarding the rest of the body potential relevance. Personally, I believe this is not the case, any complaint seen by a physiotherapist should receive a full assessment, examining all related areas and the biomechanics of how their body moves to determine what the injury is? why the injury occurred? what needs to be done to settle the complaint? and then what strategies need to be put in place to correct and prevent any recurrence? Physiotherapists are trained to look at potential causative factors for any complaint such any appropriate sporting or activity technique, including active and stationary postures, neuromuscular control and so forth… Physios are trained to address these areas so to prevent recurrence of injury, or prevent an injury from occurring in the first instance. Any physiotherapy treatment session will be reflective of the assessment findings, their clinical reasoning and how the physiotherapist has prioritized their assessment findings. As a result, the treatment session may include application of “treatment” to local areas, referral areas, and any causative factors deemed relevant.

Physiotherapists Encourage Independence & Self-Management

Personally speaking (and this is from my experience only) I think one of the distinguishing factors regarding the question “what’s the difference between a chiropractor and a physiotherapist?” is that a large part of a physiotherapy treatment approach, is focused on getting the patient actively involved in their treatment. As a physio we are encouraging the patient to become independent, emphasizing patient self-empowerment over their complaint. Patient understanding of their issue and any appropriate self-management strategies towards both managing the complaint and preventing recurrence features heavily in a physiotherapist’s mindset. From a business point of view, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but physiotherapists are schooled to want to get you better, as such you don’t have to keep coming back week after week, or month after month, for forever and a day and although practice styles may vary between individual physiotherapists the big focus is typically always on achieving self-management and patient independence. This way it enables that in the future there is not a continuing reliance on the therapist for relief, pain management, injury management.

Physiotherapy Is Aligned Closely With The Wider Medical Fraternity

Physiotherapists place enormous emphasis on evidence-based practice and are more closely associated with the medical fraternity as a whole than either chiropractors or osteopaths. When selecting your practitioner or your chosen provider of musculoskeletal therapy it is best to talk to that specific health professional and see if you are comfortable with them and their treatment approach. It is only normal patients will have preferences and beliefs that lean them towards one approach over another. Through personal experience or exposure patients may have found that particular conditions they have respond more favorably to one method of approach than another. The idea of personalized medicine is the way the world is moving not everyone will respond to the same approach regardless if the conditions are fundamentally similar, so what works for one may not work for another. I would suggest if you are not “responding” to the current treatment approach and are not offered a clear understanding why this is the case that resonates with you then it is perhaps worth considering a change of approach, which could be a practitioner within the same or neighboring professions.  In answer to the question “what’s the difference between a chiropractor and a physiotherapist?” it is true we do all treat similar conditions and though our methods do vary quite a lot from one profession to another, methods also vary just the same with-in the profession between practitioners of the same field. What is important to remember is you needn’t fear we may be upset or insulted if you change practitioner or profession, it is a patient right to have total control over the selecting of their chosen health professional and what “shape” that session takes. I am sure I am not speaking for myself alone when I say, “all we really want is for you to achieve the goals you had in mind when you approached us for assistance.”

Disclaimer: This information on What’s The Difference Between A Chiropractor And A Physiotherapist is provided as an educational service and is not intended to serve as medical advice or be taken as fact. It is an impression taken over years of working in the industry and is one persons opinion only. Anyone seeking specific orthopaedic advice or assistance should consult directly with his or her chosen practitioner.