If you are currently suffering from some sort of muscular or skeletal pain, it can be tricky to know the particular type of treatment you need. Specifically, you need to take the time to understand the differences between chiropractors and physiotherapists – and which is the best option for your individual needs.
In order to help you clear this up a bit, let’s take a closer look at the similarities and differences between chiropractors and physiotherapists.
What's a Physiotherapist?
Physiotherapists are health professionals who work in partnership with their patients to help them get better and stay well. This therapist also works closely with general physicians and other health practitioners to plan and manage treatment.
While they can work with patients who require a number of different needs, most often their patients have muscular or skeletal pain.
A typical session with a physiotherapist may involve:
- Assessing and diagnosing the patient’s condition and needs.
- Working with the patient to set and attain goals.
- Developing a treatment or prevention plan.
- Prescribing exercise and physical aides if required.
What Does a Physiotherapist Do?
A physiotherapist treats the injury, disease, and disorders through physical methods, such as exercise, stretching, mobilization, massage, and other treatments. A physiotherapist aims to relieve pain, discomfort, and ailments, without utilizing medication or surgery.
Primarily, the role of a physiotherapist is to improve a patient's quality of life by alleviating pain and restoring function. In the case of permanent disease or chronic conditions, their goal is to lessen the effects of any dysfunction, such that the patient can lead a complete and happier life.
Since a physiotherapist deals with such a wide range of patients, their daily responsibilities vary drastically. One day, he or she may assess the physical condition of a patient in order to diagnose the root of the problem. Next, they could be implementing a treatment plan, educating patients and their families, helping transition patients with new crutches or wheelchairs, or completely re-training patients to walk.
Are Physiotherapists Doctors? What About Chiropractors?
Technically speaking, yes, physiotherapists are doctors, as are chiropractors. To become a physiotherapist in the US, an individual must complete a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree, which typically takes three years after completing a bachelor's degree to achieve. Similarly, a chiropractor must obtain a four-year Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) degree, as well as complete one year of training.
However, both a DPT and DC do not make physiotherapists or chiropractors medical doctors (MD). These are considered professional or doctorate degrees, which make individual subject matter experts, but do not classify them as medical professionals. Neither physiotherapists nor chiropractors have medical licensing to practice the full scope of the medical field, which includes prescribing medications or performing surgery.
Differences between a Physiotherapist and a Chiropractor
There is a lot of overlap between these two occupations. Both chiropractors and physiotherapists treat joint and musculoskeletal problems such as spinal manipulation to improve movement and strength, decrease pain, and help return you to full function.
However, the biggest difference between the two disciplines is that a chiropractor uses manipulation, while a physiotherapist will use what is known as mobilization techniques. The two can be compared in the following way:
Manipulation technique: Chiropractors use their hands to adjust the joints of your spine and limbs where signs of restricted movement are found. Gentle, specific manipulation techniques help to restore normal body movement. Treatment aims to make you move better and more freely.
Mobilization technique: A physiotherapist will treat using a range of massage techniques and electrical therapies.
What are the Side Effects of Physiotherapy?
Much like any form of medical treatment, physiotherapy does have possible side effects. This is largely due in part to the physical activity or exercise required of patients during treatment. While a physiotherapist can perform a variety of techniques manually, the required exercise can exacerbate current pain symptoms. In fact, one of the major side effects a patient is likely to experience during treatment is an increase in baseline pain, which can lead to confusion and poor motivation to continue.
Other common side effects of physiotherapy include:
- Back pain
- Muscle soreness
Does Physiotherapy Have Disadvantages?
A physiotherapist will challenge your muscles, ligaments, and tendons to strengthen them. But, strengthening exercises can cause your body to respond with increased inflammation and swelling, which can cause additional pain and limited function.
Additionally, as with all medical treatment, participation in physiotherapy does not guarantee recovery or complete alleviation of symptoms. This factor, combined with an increase in pain and swelling, can be discouraging to some patients. Some may be tempted to discontinue therapy, however, prematurely ending therapy can likely result in long-term pain and re-injury.
How Long Should Physiotherapy Last?
A typical physiotherapy session lasts between 30 minutes and an hour, depending on the nature of the condition and the stage of treatment the patient is at. For example, the first appointment with a patient will generally last longer to account for the time taken to examine a patient's medical history, perform a physical evaluation, and so on.
The number of physiotherapy sessions needed will also depend on the nature of the condition and the patient's individual speed of recovery. No two patients are alike, and how long treatment should last will depend on the complexity of the problem and how positively the condition reacts to treatment. A number of sessions are typically needed, as treatment must be gradual to prevent further injury.
Does Physiotherapy Really Work?
Truthfully, whether or not physiotherapy works depends on a plethora of factors, including the severity of the condition, the duration of treatment, if the patient responds positively to treatment, and more. But, frankly speaking, strictly exercise-based physiotherapy will not help to address pain conditions for many individuals.
With exercise-based physiotherapy, you may be strengthening the muscle, but you're failing to alleviate inflammation, soothe sore or tight muscles, and so on. Physical therapy will not "fix" a bulging disc or narrowing spine no more than it would make a bruise disappear. However, that doesn't mean that exercise, posture, and lifestyle changes are without merit. The body must be looked at as a whole and treated holistically for treatment to truly “work.”
This is why at ChiroCare of Florida, our chiropractors manually address the root of a problem, while still performing soothing and effective therapies that can alleviate stress, inflammation, and pain. Likewise, chiropractors advise safe and beneficial stretches that can gradually build strength. Chiropractic treatments improve a patient's quality of life by helping to negate their current condition and restore function, while still strengthening tissue and preventing future injury.
Should You Choose a Physiotherapist or a Chiropractor?
If you are looking for a holistic approach to assessing, restoring, and maintaining the health of your spine and the nervous system, Chiropractors are the experts. Not only do they receive a minimum of six years of full-time, specialized education on the health of the spine and nervous system, but they will also give you a complete picture of what is going on with your spine to help restore function so proper healing can take place.
Chiropractors believe all systems in the body are connected, and they aim to create proper movement and function within all tissues (not just individual tissues or systems). Chiropractic care not only helps with current back and neck pain but prevents long-term damage and other health problems from arising.
On the other hand, physiotherapists are also able to help with back pain and sports injuries as they specialize in musculoskeletal injuries. They place more emphasis on working with individual tissues which have been injured, rather than the entire body as an interconnected system. They do not have the same amount of required education and training as chiropractors, but they still have effective pain management strategies.
If you are experiencing pain or discomfort, your first priority should be to get professionally examined, so that your practitioner can work with you and advise on a treatment best for your condition. Both chiropractors and physiotherapists give exercises and advice to help manage injuries and medical conditions.