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Should you see a Physiotherapist or a Chiropractor?

When you are in pain, it can be hard to know what treatment option would be the best and quickest way to alleviate your symptoms!

Two services regularly used for muscular or joint pains are physiotherapists and chiropractors. But what is the difference? And which is best for you?

What is the difference between a physiotherapist and a chiropractor?

In order to understand the differences, lets first look at what is similar.

  • Both physiotherapy and chiropractors help with pains and functional changes that affect the way that we move. For example neck pain, back pain, sciatica, knee pain etc.

  • Both professions offer hands on treatment for their clients to help improve their symptoms

  • Both professions require a degree and extensive training to be carried out regularly to stay up to date with the latest research

  • Both professions can assess a client thoroughly and determine a potential cause for the discomfort

  • Both professions have a protected title, which means that you can only call yourself a physiotherapist or chiropractor if you have gone through a strict process of education and assessments, like a doctor, dentist or nurse.

Next lets have a look at what each profession entails:

What is a chiropractor?

The General Chiropractic Council published this as the best explanation to 'What is a Chiropractor?'

Chiropractors are qualified health professionals who can assess, diagnose and treat a wide range of conditions, such as back and neck pain, minor sports injuries and sciatica.
Chiropractic treatment can be beneficial for a number of reasons; relieving symptoms of pain and discomfort, improving mobility and reducing disability associated with muscle and joint problems.
Chiropractors are trained to use a range of techniques when treating their patients. They are best known for using manual methods of care, including spinal and joint manipulation (also referred to as ‘adjustment’) but may also use other hands-on or instrument-assisted approaches.
Many chiropractors will also provide lifestyle advice and exercises to help you manage your condition. This may include dietary and nutritional advice as well as strategies to manage stress and discomfort.

What is a Physiotherapist?

The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy published this explanation of 'What is a Physiotherapist?'

Physiotherapy helps restore movement and function when someone is affected by injury, illness or disability.
Physiotherapists help people affected by injury, illness or disability through movement and exercise, manual therapy, education and advice.
They maintain health for people of all ages, helping patients to manage pain and prevent disease.
Physiotherapy is a degree-based healthcare profession. Physios use their knowledge and skills to improve a range of conditions associated with different systems of the body
At the core is the patient’s involvement in their own care, through education, awareness, empowerment and participation in their treatment.

Should I pick to see a Chiropractor or physiotherapist?

As you can see from above there are a lot of similarities between the two professions. As I am not a chiropractor I can't claim that this post truly captures the entirety of what Chiropractors have to offer. However I have worked with a multitude of amazing chiropractors and physiotherapists over my career so the below reasons are my own observations of the differences between the two professions.

  • Chiropractors tend to have a much greater focus on the skeleton, joints and the interplay these have with our function/pain levels. Physiotherapists tend to have a greater focus on the soft tissues such as muscles, ligaments, tendons etc.

  • Chiropractors tend to have a heavy 'hands on' bias to their treatment of conditions, whereas physiotherapy has a broader combination of both hands on treatment mixed with at home exercise programmes.

  • Physiotherapists are more often the chosen profession to treat more sporting related injuries like ankle sprains, pulled muscles, fractures, dislocations etc whereas chiropractors are more often the chosen profession for disorders due to stiffness or altered movement from the body such as spinal problems.

  • Physiotherapists usually support clients to get back to activity through a graded return such as outdoor rehab, rehab using weights, core control/activation etc.

However I would like to caveat ALL of the above points with the fact that this is not a profession wide statement. Some chiropractors specialise in sports injuries and other physios specialise in persistent back pain. Some Physiotherapists are incredibly hands on and won't give you any exercise to do whereas others won't touch you but are very exercise focussed. Some chiropractors chose to mostly 'click' and manipulate joints, whilst other chiropractors use a variety of techniques along with a home exercise programme. It simply depends on a clinician's previous experience, values, and presenting condition in front of them.

Should I pick a chiropractor or physiotherapist for my pain?

My answer to this would be either! The best way to decide who you should see to treat your pain is to have a look at the professionals in your area. If the local physiotherapist has an excellent reputation for back pain, or your local chiropractor has excellent reviews on shoulder problems, then see that clinician. A lot of the time I tend to find its personal preference.

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