The majority of people will experience some kind of neck pain, back pain or other musculoskeletal injury at some point throughout their lives. Whether this be a sporting injury, as a result of a car accident or simply from general wear and tear of the joints and muscles in our body, most people who seek a treatment option will see either a chiropractor or a physiotherapist.

What is the difference between the two professions and how can you choose who is better suited to treat your current predicament? Differentiating between the two can be complex at the best of times.

Fundamentally, both chiropractors and physiotherapists use techniques such as mobilisations, muscle and joint manipulation, massage, stretching and targeted exercise protocols to improve the function of an injured joint or muscle.

There is much variation from chiropractor to chiropractor and physiotherapist to physiotherapist, therefore ultimately you will find differences between chiropractors and physiotherapists.

This is largely because the majority of practitioners will gravitate towards areas of personal interest and over time develop a niche in their method of practice. Both chiropractors and physiotherapists are required to complete yearly continuing educational points. These courses offer practitioners access to new techniques and new research that can be incorporated into practice. Post graduate training to specialise in particular areas of musculoskeletal therapies will also influence how a practitioner treats.

The end goal for both chiros and physios is to restore the joint back to an optimal state. What is the optimal state for a joint? A healthy joint, healthy bones and healthy muscles are ones that are used regularly, have full range of motion and minimal scar tissue.

At a neurological level, a healthy joint and muscle is one that has a good relationship with the brain. Whether you are seeing a physiotherapist or a chiropractor, the treatment is aimed at improving the signalling between your brain and the joint and muscle. Better signalling between the brain and body means:

  • Less likelihood for an injury to occur in the first place
  • If the injury has occurred, then better signalling means that your brain is better able to cue injury avoiding tactics and coordinate repairing cells to the damaged area
  • Better cueing leads to faster healing
  • Faster healing therefore means the injured area and the surrounding joints and muscles are not overburdened for longer than they need to be

Another important factor to consider when discussing the difference between chiros and physios is that every ‘body’ is different. Person A visiting a practitioner with a knee injury is entirely different to person B. Simple things that will impact how a patient responds to an injury can include their weight, diet, past injuries, level of activity and their medical status.

It is important to find a practitioner that is best suited to you personally. This may not always be the first practitioner that you see and it may not necessarily be that the same practitioner that is able to best help you with every injury type that you sustain.

Find out more by visiting the Australian Physiotherapy Association or the Chiropractors’ Association Australia.