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Should I See a Chiropractor or a Physiotherapist?

Health & Wellness
Last Updated Aug 21, 2020

When you’re faced with pain, especially if it’s the first time, it’s hard to know who to turn to. Can your GP help, or do you need someone more specialised, someone who treats your specific issue? Both physiotherapy and chiropractic professions specialise in the musculoskeletal system, to help improve overall health and well-being.

What is a Chiropractor?

Chiropractors are known as the "spinal health experts" who work to help improve your body's nervous system. Chiropractic assumes that a healthy and properly functioning nervous system equates to improved overall health and well-being. Chiropractors address all demographics including babies, infants, athletes and the elderly.

Chiropractic focuses primarily on the spine and the alignment of the vertebrae, the skull and the pelvis. The spinal column, consisting of the vertebrae, contains and protects the spinal cord and the many nerves that branch out from it. These nerves form the nervous system and are responsible for all our bodily functions. A chiropractor aims to improve the flow of information along these nerves, which are sometimes impaired through misalignment of the vertebrae.

Though chiropractic is not just about the spine - it also focuses on nutrition, exercise and your health and well-being as a whole.

Lower back pain is one of the principal reasons people consult a chiropractor, although they also treat a number of other issues, both structural and functional. Examples include digestive issues and headaches. Research suggests it can also be helpful in treating menstrual pain, fibromyalgia and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Chiropractors primarily use chiropractic adjustments to help improve the nervous system. Sometimes they ‘move’ areas that are not moving properly. This is referred to as an ‘adjustment’. They may also use an “activator”, a pen-like instrument that addresses the misalignments in the spine and pelvis by correcting them with a gentle percussive force. There are a number of different styles of Chiropractic. Other techniques they could use are massage or hot or cold packs.

Are Chiropractors Qualified?

To practise in Australia, chiropractors must complete a five-year university qualification, which is subdivided into a three year Bachelor and a two year Masters degree. They are also regulated and registered by the government. The Australian Government has set up a regulating body to oversee the industry and ensure high standards of practise are maintained.

Find a chiropractor in your local area.

What is a Physiotherapist?

Physiotherapy, like chiropractic, aims to improve your health and wellbeing. Physiotherapists are often referred to as movement specialists and aim to help your joints and muscles work to their full potential. They often give exercise programs to patients to improve mobility, and will also use in massage, stretching, ultrasound and laser therapy, and mobilisation and manipulation.

Common problems that physiotherapists treat include sports injuries, back and neck pain, arthritis, repetitive strain injury (RSI) and even asthma. They will use a range of treatments including massage, exercise programs, hot and cold packs and aids such as crutches and wheelchairs to help improve movement and mobility.

Are Physiotherapists Qualified?

In Australia, physiotherapists will have completed either a four-year degree in Physiotherapy of Applied Science (Physiotherapy), or a graduate entry Masters program (a two-year accelerated program). These qualifications enable practitioners to apply for registration with the Physiotherapists Registration Board. In 2010, a single national registration and accreditation program was set up in Australia, with the Physiotherapy Board of Australia responsible to registering physiotherapists and students.

Find a physiotherapist in your local area.

The Chiropractors' Association of Australia
The Chiropractic Board of Australia
Australian Physiotherapy Association
Physiotherapy Board of Australia
Cranbourne Family Chiropractor

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Originally published on Jul 22, 2018

FAQs About Chiropractors and Physiotherapists

What is the difference between a chiropractor and a physiotherapist?

While chiropractors and physiotherapists focus on the same thing, which is eliminating pain and improving range of motion, they apply different approaches. A chiropractor works on the alignment of the spine to relieve pain, which is usually felt in the head, neck, back, joints and legs. On the other hand, a physiotherapist guides you through a pain management exercise program that aims to improve your mobility.

Can a physiotherapist work as a chiropractor?

With the qualifications they gained from a physical therapy course, a physiotherapist may not qualify as a chiropractor. However, once they've earned a postgraduate degree in chiropractic care and received the Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.) title, they can start practicing as one.

When must you see a chiropractor or a physiotherapist?

If you're experiencing persistent headaches, back pain, sore muscles as well as pain in the arms and legs, it's a clear indication that you need the help of a chiropractor. For stiff joints that cause excruciating pain, especially when you're moving, you need to consult a physiotherapist.

Who is more qualified, a physiotherapist or a chiropractor?

A physiotherapist and a chiropractor are both qualified to treat people's pain and improve their physical health. However, they have different ways of doing it. A physiotherapist guides their patients in performing safe exercises that will improve their mobility. They often work with people who are recovering from an illness or injury.

Spinal correction is the focus of a chiropractor to relieve their patients of pain. They treat subluxations to improve the overall health of the neuromuscular system.

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