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What is the difference between chiropractic and physiotherapy?



Suppose you feel tension or pain in your body due to an injury or activity, and you would not prefer any form of invasive treatment in a hospital. In that case, you may be wondering whether to visit a physiotherapist or a chiropractor. 

A common confusion makes people think these two professions are all about the same thing. After all, they seem to represent natural, non-invasive methods of treatment that often involve exercise. Although chiropractic care and physiotherapy have certain features in common, some distinct differences exist between these occupations. So what is the difference between chiropractic and physiotherapy? 

Read more to gain insight into the two occupations, how they differ and how to choose based on your condition.

What is Chiropractic care?

Chiropractic care is the notion that the body can heal itself with the aid of specific interventions given by a chiropractor. Chiropractors use specific hands-on movement, sometimes aided by physical therapy with some materials, e.g., ice or heat. Chiropractic care does not involve invasive treatments like taking injections, using medication or undergoing surgical procedures. 

Chiropractors focus mainly on the muscles, the skeletal systems(like joints and the spine), and nerves by manipulating or providing adjustments to ease pain associated with certain conditions. Standard practices associated with chiropractic care may involve

  • Carrying out physical tests and examinations to determine the condition.
  • Carrying out hands-on adjustments to relieve pain
  • Recommending other forms of treatment that needs additional care
  • Recommending exercises to a patient’s treatment plan 

What is Physiotherapy?

Physiotherapy is the same thing as physical therapy. Physical therapy aims to ensure that patients can move every part of their body necessary for an individual to function effectively in daily activities. A physiotherapist uses stretches and exercises and recommends lifestyle modifications to help people live their daily lives without pain or discomfort, increasing their quality of life. Standard practices associated with physical therapy may include

  • Evaluating the extent of pain, rigidity, and ease of movement. Recommending stretches and exercises in a treatment plan.
  • Educating patients on good posture while sitting, standing, sleeping, and other daily activities to reduce pain and avoid injury.
  • Use ice, heat, and other physical materials to ease the pain.
  • Providing care for open wounds and cuts

Similar to physicians, physiotherapists can treat patients in intensive care units or emergency rooms. Treatment with physical therapy can be extended or short-term depending on the condition that is being treated.

What is the difference between chiropractic and physiotherapy?

Chiropractic care and physiotherapy differ in the following criteria:

  • Objective

Chiropractic care and manipulation have roots in traditional and less scientific theories. It is viewed as alternative medicine and natural, hands-on treatment of pain and alignment issues. Chiropractors mainly treat disorders related to the musculoskeletal system, which includes muscles, joints, and the spine. They also specialize in issues relating to stress or increased pressure on nerves. 

On the other hand, one primary function of physiotherapy is pain-free movements. Physiotherapists ensure that their patients can carry out everyday activities quickly and without pain. They restore overall body function to improve the quality of life. 

  • Conditions treated

Chiropractic care focuses more on conditions related to joint pain in the limbs, neck and back pain, and headaches, including migraines. Physiotherapy focuses on restoring the body’s whole function, including movement.

  • Treatment Procedures

Chiropractors mainly use manipulations and adjustments as treatments. They are also trained in physical therapy and sometimes incorporate exercises into their treatment plan. Physical therapists mainly use stretches and exercises to improve overall body function and mobility.

  • Work environment

Chiropractors and physiotherapists are seen in both public and private hospitals. However, chiropractors use specialized equipment to carry out adjustments and spinal manipulations. Physiotherapists can also work in environments outside the healthcare setting, such as homes, gyms, rehabilitation centers, workplaces, and even schools.

  • Modalities

Chiropractic care may include

  • Massage treatment/therapy
  • Activator method
  • Use of ultrasound and low-level laser therapy
  • Interferential current
  • Cervical traction

Physiotherapy includes

  • Heat/Cold therapy
  • Electrical stimulation
  • Exercises
  • Traction therapy
  • Ultrasound therapy
  • Shock wave therapy

Sometimes, chiropractors may have to use some of the modalities used by physical therapists.

  • History in medicine

Chiropractic care was founded in the late 1980s and was popularly known as adjustment or spinal manipulation. Physiotherapy was first designed for the US army in WW1.

When do you need chiropractic care or physiotherapy?

It may not seem hard to decide between the two professions, especially since they share many similarities.

When to choose physical therapy

Physiotherapy may be the best treatment option if you’re experiencing one of the following.

  • Limited mobility due to a medical condition, surgical procedures, an injury, or accident.
  • Pain as a result of movement
  • Reduced extent of mobility
  • Reduced strength and mobility as a result of arthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder(COPD), stroke, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis

Why choose chiropractic care?

Chiropractic therapy can be a treatment option if you experience any of the following:

  • Pain in your back, neck, and joints
  • Problems with alignment of bones
  • Headaches that can be a result of neck and spine misalignment
  • Limited range of motion or loss of flexibility.

As an endnote, Physiotherapy and Chiropractic care indeed share some similarities but offer specific services based on the treatment condition. Using the comparison of the two professions in this article, you should be able to tell the difference and choose which professional is best qualified to treat your condition.




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