You might be wondering what the difference between a Chiropractor and a Physiotherapist is. Almost every person experiences pain in their body at some point in their life. It could be because of an injury, vigorous exercise, some illness, or sometimes just because of age. The pain sometimes is just so unbearable that it starts affecting your mobility. In such cases, you need a healthcare specialist to help you reduce the pain and improve your physical well-being.
A physiotherapist (also called a physical therapist) and chiropractor are healthcare professionals which manage pain and stiffness in your body with a drug-free approach. If you want to consult a professional for your pain, you might be thinking about which one you should go for and what distinguishes them from each other.
Both of them seem similar on the surface, as their goal is to help reduce pain and improve physical health. However, several differences between them mean you must know how to choose the right one.
We will discuss their roles in detail here so you know exactly which one you should use. By the end, you’ll know everything you need to know about the difference between a chiropractor and a physiotherapist.
Physiotherapist vs. Chiropractor
A chiropractor diagnoses and treats spinal disorders that affect the neuromusculoskeletal system, which includes nerves, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bone.
A chiropractor believes that adjusting the spinal malalignments and realignments of joints treat other functions in the body.
It focuses mostly on neck pain, back pain, and joint pain and uses manual techniques to manipulate the spine to relieve pain in the affected area. The practitioner uses hands-on techniques to treat the joints, muscles, and bones where there is restricted movement and restore them to a normal state.
A chiropractor usually uses manipulation techniques for adjusting joints. It requires specialized spaces and equipment to adjust malalignments in spines to relieve pain.
A chiropractor uses spinal manipulation to relieve pain and return the affected body part to its normal state. A trained practitioner uses their hands or, in some cases, a device to apply a controlled thrust (with a specific magnitude of the force in a specific direction) on the affected area. While doing this, a sudden “pop” sound is heard because of the pressure release.
A physiotherapist focuses on how the body functions as a whole, unlike a chiropractor who focuses mainly on the spine. They aim to reduce weaknesses in muscles that have happened due to an injury, excessive strain, or surgery.
A physiotherapist deals with strained body parts and works on them to bring pain-free movement.
The approach of physiotherapists for improving muscle pain or strain is usually through exercises. They often suggest patients perform stretches and exercises on daily basis. Unlike chiropractic, physiotherapy can be done at home and in the healthcare space.
A physiotherapist usually uses mobilization, which is a slower technique performed on joints, ligaments, or muscles, and it helps to decrease pain and promotes flexibility in the affected area.
As compared to the manipulation technique, the movement applied in this technique is smooth and mild movements are applied repeatedly. The movements can either be gentle or firm, depending on the condition of the affected area which is being treated.
What Does A Physiotherapist Do?
A physiotherapist/physical therapist works with patients to improve their physical movement by helping them manage pain, balance, and mobility. Their main focus is to bring pain-free movement so that the patient’s body functions without any issues.
If you have an injury or have been facing issues with movement post-surgery, your doctor will suggest physiotherapy. A therapist will ask you how much difficulty you face while moving.
They will do an initial evaluation by asking questions about your injury, your pre and post-operative care, your ability to move, and where it hurts while moving. They will ask about your medical history to proceed further and establish a suitable plan.
Once your therapist is done knowing about your brief medical history, they will certainly carry out a physical examination to know what is causing pain and limiting your movement.
Your physical therapist will carry out some physical tests to create a treatment plan for you, and it will also help them to know how many sessions and time it will take to achieve the goal.
Following are some tests that your physiotherapist will administer.
- How good you are with your ability to move
- How well you can bend, move and reach
- How much your motion is restricted
- The pain you feel while doing certain movements
- How well are you able to carry out your daily task and movements
After diagnosing your current condition, a physiotherapist will customize treatment programs depending upon the severity of the condition.
The physical therapy treatment plan may include
- Stretches and exercises
- Heat and cold therapy
- Educating you about posture, so you don’t get any injury or pain during movement
- A plan to improve your overall physical health
The time required to reach those goals differs from person to person. Depending upon the condition, it may take less or more time than other people in physical therapy. You may need more sessions or fewer ones to get a pain-free movement.
A therapist will teach you to exercise to do at home and might also give you some gadgets if necessary to help you move or do some exercise. The treatment plan will help you to achieve your goal and improve your overall well-being.
What Does A Chiropractor Do?
A chiropractor works with a patient to reduce pain by using hands-on techniques on your body parts. Just like physiotherapy, chiropractic treatment does not involve any medication instead, they assist the body in healing on its own.
Most people but not all, visit a chiropractor when they have neck pain or lower back pain. During your initial visit, a chiropractor will ask about your medical history and examine by particularly paying attention to your spine.
They can also ask you to get an x-ray done to have a better look at your condition. All procedures are done to diagnose your condition so that accordingly they can come up with a treatment plan.
Techniques like spinal manipulation are used by chiropractors by applying a force to a joint in the spine in a specific direction for proper alignment. This is often accompanied by a ‘pop’ sound like the one when you crack your knuckles.
Apart from spinal manipulation, there are many other treatments as follows:
- Heat or ice treatment
- Exercises for improving flexibility
- Relaxation techniques
Are Physiotherapists Doctors? What About Chiropractors?
Practising physiotherapy requires several years of education and training. One must hold a Doctor in Physical Therapy (DPT) from Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education.
After that, they must pass a state licensure exam to obtain a license to practice physiotherapy. One must obtain a bachelor’s degree in health sciences, physiology, anatomy, or other prerequisites for the doctoral program in physical therapy. A DPT program takes 3 years to complete and the curriculum includes courses in imaging, biomechanics, anatomy, neuroscience, pathophysiology, etc.
A chiropractor holds a doctorate in chiropractic degree. However, they are not considered medical doctors as they don’t have an MD degree. Just like a physiotherapist, they too are required to have 3-year undergraduate bachelor’s degrees in a related field.
Once graduated, they must enter a 4-year program to obtain a chiropractic degree. In America, a doctorate in chiropractic degree is obtained from a college accredited by Council on Chiropractic Education.
When Should You See A Chiropractor Or Physiotherapist?
A chiropractor treats a spinal disorder that is related to the neuromusculoskeletal system.
Following are some of the cases where chiropractic care should be considered.
Severe Pain – If you are suffering from back pain, neck pain, or knee pain, you might have been suggested to see a chiropractor. However, these pains are only advisable to be treated by a chiropractor if it is not because of some underlying disease like osteoarthritis. A severe headache can be caused by tension in the neck’s muscles and give rise to inflammation in the joints, a chiropractor will manipulate your spine to release tension in your muscles.
Injury – If you had a recent injury that is restricting your movements and causing pain, then this is the sign that you should see a chiropractor
Active lifestyle – If you are someone who does intense workouts or has an active lifestyle, then this sometimes causes additional strain on muscles and other alignment problems. A chiropractor will keep your spine alignment in check so that your body is functioning at its prime.
Unlike chiropractic care, physiotherapy focuses on the body as a whole. Following are some of the cases where you should consider seeing a physiotherapist.
Your pain is restricting your movement – If you have pain somewhere in your body which restricts you from doing movements such as bending, sitting straight, or climbing stairs then you should see a physiotherapist. Your therapist will teach you to exercise to do at home which will help you to achieve your goal
Your pain is persistent (getting worse) – Most of us ignore the pain at the initial stage, hoping that it will go away after a few days- in some cases, it does. However, sometimes, the pain continues to get worse with each passing day. In some cases, the pain settles for some time but returns while doing certain activities like running, sporting, climbing stairs, etc. Going for physical therapy will better the problems and help you recover
You had an injury – If you had an accident, a minor or major one that has impacted your ability to do movement, then your doctor will suggest physiotherapy. Your therapist will plan a program to bring flexibility to your movement. Depending upon your condition, your therapist will inform you how many sessions are required to recover.
Both physiotherapy and chiropractic treatment focus on bringing pain-free movement to the body. They both use non-surgical techniques and have a drug-free approach to managing pain.
A physiotherapist will ask you to exercise and do stretches to reduce pain, whereas a chiropractor releases pain and lets the body heal on its own by using manipulation techniques.
If you are suffering from pain or having restricted mobility, then getting a physiotherapist or chiropractic care will help you to reduce the pain and achieve overall well-being. It is better to consult with your physician before choosing between the two. Depending on your condition, your doctor will determine whether you need a chiropractor or a physiotherapist.
Why don’t physiotherapists like chiropractors?
It’s definitely not a hard rule that all physical therapists dislike chiropractors, but there is some truth behind it. A physiotherapist takes a smooth and slow approach to treating a patient, whereas chiropractors usually use manipulation techniques that can sometimes worsen injury and pain.
There is no risk of injury involved in getting physical therapy. Unlike chiropractors, a physical therapist focuses on the overall body.
Physical therapy is a more respected profession as there is more history behind it and it’s more rooted in science. There are some who see chiropractors as just glorified masseuses, but there are many patients who will swear that a chiropractor healed their pain.
What is the difference between a physiotherapist and a physical trainer?
A physical trainer works with you to achieve fitness and strength in your body. A physical trainer does not diagnose injury and cannot help reduce pain and improve movement in the body.
A physical therapist treats the injury by planning to achieve pain-free movement. In fact, if someone had an injury or suffers from painful mobility, then they should not work with their physical trainer unless their physiotherapist approves them to do so.
A great physical trainer may well have a great breadth of knowledge in terms of body management but their knowledge will never match that of a qualified doctor.
How to choose between a physiotherapist and a chiropractor?
If you are dealing with neck or back pain and it is not due to some underlying disease such as arthritis, then you can see a chiropractor as they deal with spine-related disorders. However, if you are having issues with doing daily movements, or you had an injury or accident, then you can see a physiotherapist as they focus on overall physical ability.
The best way to decide between them is to consult with your physician, and they can suggest you one according to your condition. They will often advise you to see a physiotherapist as they offer a broader range of scientifically based treatments.