Chiropractor vs Physiotherapist: What’s The Difference?

What is the difference between a chiropractor and a physiotherapist?

We all get aches and pains from time to time. But if you’re experiencing creaking joints, stiffness or pain more often than normal, you might be considering finding expert help. This is where physiotherapists and chiropractors come in. Both professions are specialists in treating problems associated with joints, muscles and nerves, and can help to reduce pain, increase mobility and rehabilitate following injury or illness. 

There are a lot of similarities between physiotherapists and chiropractors, including some of the benefits they can provide, but there are also some key differences. For example, physiotherapists tend to work more with muscles, while chiropractors use manipulation techniques to work on the skeleton. We’ll lay out all of the similarities and differences below so that you can make an educated choice on which is best for you.


What is a physiotherapist?

Physiotherapists work to improve physical function by restoring or maintaining movement in the body. Their help is commonly sought by people affected by injury, illness or disability, and they cover a wide breadth of problems. Those suffering with chronic illnesses like cystic fibrosis, MS or Parkinson’s disease may incorporate physiotherapy into their routine. It’s also often used to help rehabilitate patients following sports injuries, strokes or heart attacks. 

The science of physiotherapy places a big emphasis on bones, joints and soft tissue, and therefore any pain associated with these areas, whether chronic or acute, could potentially be lessened with the help of a physio. The profession is regulated by law, which means a licensed physiotherapist will have undergone rigorous training, education, and examination before they are allowed to work on your body. 

A physiotherapist will typically use their expertise to assess any problems that you might have, before providing tailored exercises and diet advice with the aim of strengthening these specific areas. They will also educate and offer advice to help you understand what day to day things can affect or worsen symptoms, such as how to lift heavy items correctly, or how to improve your posture to prevent further issues. 

In terms of direct treatment, a physiotherapist might use massage therapy, exercises, stretches, hands-on manipulation, or any combination of these techniques to relieve pain and encourage movement. They can also incorporate other elements that they believe might be beneficial, such as hydrotherapy or the use of mobility aids. 



What is a chiropractor?                                                       

Like physiotherapists, chiropractors are also licensed professionals who have to undergo training in order to work legally. Chiropractic is an alternative medicine, which means it’s not a conventional treatment and doesn’t necessarily work on an evidence-based approach. However, there are plenty of people who praise the positive effects of chiropractic treatment, and some studies that back up its reported efficacy. 

Chiropractors are commonly sought out to help treat back, neck and shoulder pain. They can also provide relief from headaches and to those experiencing pain and discomfort from osteoarthritis. Some chiropractic treatments are also targeted at other conditions, such as sciatica, scoliosis, and neck-related vertigo. 

During a session, a chiropractor will evaluate your symptoms and physical condition, before moving on to treatment. This might involve manipulation, where the joints of the spine and limbs are adjusted by hand, causing ‘clicking’ or ‘cracking’ sounds. A chiropractor will focus on wherever there is pain or restricted movement, with the manipulations helping to increase blood flow to the area and regulate nerve conductivity. 

The chiropractic philosophy dictates that the interventions performed by the chiropractor in the form of adjustments and manipulations can not just release tension and improve pain, but also encourage the body to heal itself. Some patients report feeling ‘lighter’ or ‘looser’ following a session, and can move more freely.   



The differences between chiropractors and physiotherapists 

While there are many similarities between physiotherapy and chiropractic treatments, there are also some differences which are important to note before deciding which one is right for you. The main difference is that physiotherapy applies a much broader range of techniques, while chiropractic places a larger emphasis on spinal and pelvic manipulations in particular. 

The key differences between physiotherapists and chiropractors are as follows:

GoalImproved and pain-free movementPain relief and spinal alignment
FocusOverall movement of the bodyMostly focuses on back and neck 
MethodA combination of massage, stretches and manipulationsShort, forceful movements known as adjustments 
EnvironmentCan work from most places, including hospital or your homeSpecific equipment is normally required so sessions most often take place in a specialised space


When it comes to similarities, there are still quite a few. Both physiotherapists and chiropractors use manual (i.e. hands on) therapy to achieve their goal, and they can both provide care plans for their clients to use outside of sessions. 

A lot of the same conditions can be treated by either a physiotherapist or chiropractor, and the main issue people seek treatment for is usually pain related. Both are licensed professionals who know how to take into account your health history, lifestyle and personal treatment goals when working with you. 


Which one is right for you?

Whether you choose a physiotherapist or chiropractor really depends on what your specific concerns are. If you need help recovering after surgery or an injury, a physiotherapist might be the first port of call. If you are hoping to address chronic back pain, then a chiropractor might be able to provide the most relief.

If you’re still not sure which is right for you, it could be worth contacting both a physiotherapist and a chiropractor to describe your issues and ask for their opinion. You could even go so far as to try a session with each to find out which is the best fit. Look to see if they have any specialisms that mean they’re well-versed in treating your specific health problem. 

MyHA can help you find local chiropractors and physiotherapists so that you don’t have to travel far from home (and some even offer home visits). You can browse, contact and book right now through our platform, getting you on your way to a more comfortable life.