It is not always clear in the public mind about the difference between physiotherapists and chiropractors, with regards to both the work they do and the philosophy underpinning their approach to health and well-being. We briefly outline here what the primary differences are, and what you can expect from a course of treatment in each.
Neck pain? Problems with your lower back? A sporting injury? Pain caused through an accident? Any or all of these conditions can, to varying degrees, impact on your quality of life. The need for relief is usually pressing, but it can sometimes be difficult to know who to turn to to get effective treatment. You may receive advice and suggestions from family or friends, but this advice, however well-meaning, can often be contradictory. Therefore, who is the most appropriate medical professional to consult when you are hampered by lower back pain, a stiff neck, or aching joints? Before you can make an informed decision, it is useful to have at least a broad understanding of the types of treatment options available to you.
The types of pain and injuries described above are most frequently the result of musculoskeletal problems, and in this case patients are often recommended to visit either a physiotherapist or a chiropractor. The differences between the two disciplines are not necessarily clear-cut in the minds of many people but, while there may be some points of similarity, there are nevertheless some important differences between the two. Ultimately, these differences might most usefully be described as philosophical and procedural.
Physiotherapy is primarily concerned with responding to muscular and joint pain through rehabilitative exercises and the use of massage and stretching, which may be combined with other processes, such as ultrasound, hydrotherapy or heat therapy. Physiotherapists are often called upon to help patients recover their mobility after an accident or injury, and to assist them in managing pain. Soft tissue problems are also an area in which physiotherapists tend to specialise.
Essential to chiropractic is the idea that good health and well-being are dependent upon a proper functioning relationship between the nervous system and the spine, with the body’s bones, organs, joints, tissues and muscles. Therefore, for a patient with an injury or illness, the central tenet of chiropractic treatment is to realign the spine in order that the body’s nervous system can function properly and without irritation. This process, known as chiropractic alignment, consists of gentle, painless, directed force being manually applied to a joint or vertebrae that is suffering from restricted movement, which is intended to enable it gradually to regain normal motion.
A course of chiropractic treatment is highly personalised, which means there are no predetermined limits as to how many treatments session may be needed. Some patients require only a few sessions, while for others it might be desirable to undertake ongoing treatment, perhaps followed by occasional check-ups. Importantly, a course of chiropractic treatment is also likely to include a reevaluation of some areas of your lifestyle, such as your diet and the exercise you take. The reason for this is to reduce the possibility that the things that you do in your life are actually contributing to exacerbating your injury or complaint.
Ultimately, the type of treatment that you undergo is a personal decision, probably made in consultation with your GP. We believe in and promote the efficacy of chiropractic because its focus on the spine and nervous system, and its emphasis on addressing the affect that lifestyle has on your health, means that it is a holistic approach to well-being. The physical manipulation techniques involved in chiropractic are painless and designed to restore your body’s natural sense of balance, and so chiropractic is non-invasive and drug free. Chiropractic’s focus on reestablishing a healthy, functioning relationship between the spine, nervous system and the body’s organs also means that it promotes the body’s natural ability to heal itself, and this in turn contributes positively to your long-term health and well-being.