The Difference Between Chiropractic Care and Physiotherapy

An Overview of Chiropractic and Physiotherapy

Physiotherapy and chiropractic care are terms that are often used interchangeably. Despite their similarities linked to treating pain, stiffness, and injuries, the two forms of treatment involve different training approaches and therapeutic techniques. Physical therapy uses exercises and stretches that involve the body’s movement and functionality as a whole. On the other hand, chiropractic care uses various manipulation and adjustment techniques for specific musculoskeletal and neurological conditions that are associated with alignment issues. Hence based on the physiological condition, it is important to seek treatment from the appropriate expert. 

A Comparative Look at Chiropractic vs Physiotherapy

Chiropractic and physiotherapy are both healthcare disciplines that aim to improve physical function and relieve pain. However, each approach has a distinct focus and methodology. Chiropractic focuses mainly on the musculoskeletal system and uses manual manipulation techniques, whereas physiotherapy focuses on physical impairments and disabilities and uses a variety of techniques, including exercise and manual therapy, to improve physical function. Let's take a closer look at the differences between chiropractic and physiotherapy in terms of focus, techniques, emphasis, conditions treated, and education and training.

What do physiotherapy and chiropractic adjustment means: 

Physiotherapy or physical therapy is concerned with identifying and improving quality of life and movement potential through preventative measures, interventions, and rehabilitative care. With evidence-based techniques, various physiological conditions can be treated. However, the expert comprehensively evaluates the condition to determine the appropriate course of action. In addition to treating existing conditions, physiotherapy can also be applied in improving general strength and functionality. There is a wide range of techniques within physiotherapy that focuses on vestibular, geriatric, perinatal/postnatal, pediatric, post-surgery, neurological, respiratory, cardiovascular, and musculoskeletal issues. 

On the other hand, Chiropractic adjustment/care is a hands-on, non-invasive, and drug-free approach that involves manipulating and aligning the musculoskeletal system (especially the spine) to improve overall functioning. With a comprehensive diagnosis of the condition, a chiropractor uses various techniques that apply pressure to the affected areas to release tension, stiffness, and pain. During the procedure, a crack or pop sensation may be felt which is an indication of a realigned bone or joint. This treatment is considered to be a traditional approach that can be applied for general conditions like headaches, lower back pain, and complex issues associated with developmental disorders, injuries, and geriatric conditions. 

Education and training: 

Becoming a physiotherapist would require pursuing a Bachelor of Physiotherapy (BPT) or a diploma course on the same. The bachelor course is a four-year program with six months of internship and the diploma is a three-year program. The course focuses on exercise therapy, physiotherapy orientation, clinical training, allied therapies, sociology, and other physiology-related subjects. Post this, pursuing a master's degree is highly recommended. Master of Physiotherapy (MPT) and Postgraduate Diploma in Physiotherapy are both two-year courses that involve specialization in various branches including sports, orthopedics, clinical electrophysiology, pediatric, and geriatric physiotherapy. In addition to this, gaining experience by working in different spheres including hospitals, care centers, gyms, etc. 

While, a chiropractor is required to at least have a bachelor's degree which is a 5 year integrated course in chiropractic care. Post this, pursuing a master's in chiropractic care is recommended. It is a four-year course that involves a minimum of 4200 hours of combined classroom, clinical, and laboratory experience. During this period, training in anatomy, microbiology, pathology, physiology, public health, and biochemistry is gained. The final years of the course involve specialization in spinal adjustments and manipulation to gain practical experience. Further, the clinical experience would entail the assessment and diagnosis of specific geriatric, neurological, and orthopedic issues. For a postdoctoral degree, one can take specialty exams conducted by Chiropractic specialty boards. Finally, to start a private practice, a license would be required. This is received by clearing a compulsory 4 part test conducted by the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners. 

Techniques and approaches: 

Physiotherapy involves a wide range of techniques and approaches. The three main approaches followed by a physiotherapist post-assessment are- education and advice, movement and exercise, and manual therapy. One of the most prominent approaches used is education and advice. This refers to assessing the body as a whole rather than focusing on the affected area. Based on their understanding, the physiotherapist would recommend general or specific tips that can be incorporated into the patient’s lifestyle. In movement and exercise, the physiotherapist can recommend a range of techniques to improve mobility and functioning. These exercises include strengthening and stretching exercises, hydrotherapy, and exercises to strengthen the affected area. In addition to this, they may also share advice on assistance with mobility aids (braces, crutches, etc). Finally, manual therapy is a hands-on technique that mobilizes and massages muscles and joints to release tension and pain. Specialized techniques can also be administered including acupuncture, ultrasound therapy, and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENs) therapy. 

On the contrary, with chiropractic care, the techniques administered mainly focus on manipulating and adjusting the musculoskeletal system (especially the spine). Based on the severity of the condition, 6 common techniques can be used. The flexion distraction technique is used to improve spinal motion and fix herniated or misaligned discs. It is commonly used to treat severe lumbar-spine conditions. The Gonstead technique is another approach that involves adjusting the lower back and pelvis. It is one of the most popular approaches to treating pain or stiffness. The activator method refers to the use of specialized instruments that applies a short and low-force pulse on the affected area. The next approach referred to as extremity manipulation involves readjusting the joints outside of the spine (shoulder, elbow, hip, knee, ankle, wrist joints). Another popular technique referred to as spinal manipulation or mobilization applies gentle pressure and stretches the joints to improve their mobility. Finally, the drop technique also known as the Thompson technique uses a specific table that drops based on the pressure applied by the expert. These subtle drops feel like vibrations that reduce pain during spinal manipulation. 

Conditions Treated: 

Physiotherapists use stretching and strengthening exercises, electrotherapy, hydrotherapy, and massages to treat various conditions including- 

  • Orthopedic: Back pain, ligament tears, carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow, arthritis, lower back pain, spasms, sciatica, joint problems, etc. 
  • Neurological: Multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, vertigo, cerebral palsy, neuropathy, stroke, concussion, etc. 
  • Autoimmune: Rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, etc.
  • Chronic conditions: Asthma, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, etc. 
  • Perinatal and postnatal: Pelvic pain, thoracic pain, pelvic floor weakness, urinary incontinence, abdominal separation, neck pain, upper back pain, etc. 
  • Post-surgery pain
  • Vestibular: Acoustic neuroma, dizziness, vestibular neuronitis, etc. 

In addition to this, physiotherapists also work toward improving general well-being and fitness.  

Whereas, With specialized instruments or the traditional hands-on approach, chiropractors can effectively treat a wide range of conditions including- 

  • Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) problems: Pain and discomfort in the jaw joints and muscles. 
  • Neck pain
  • Shoulder pain 
  • Tennis elbow: Severe elbow pain as a result of repetitive wear and tear. 
  • Scoliosis: A spinal deformity leading to premature arthritis, lower back pain, and respiratory problems. 
  • Fibromyalgia: Chronic musculoskeletal pain
  • Hip bursitis: Hip pain caused by inflammation of a fluid-filled sac that lies below the hip muscle. 
  • Disc pain: Misalignment of a disc or a bulge between the disc can cause mild to severe pain. 
  • Plantar fasciitis: Inflammation of the thin tissue located at the bottom of the feet. 

In addition to this, chiropractors also treat general conditions associated with posture and gait issues. 

Chiropractic treatment vs. physiotherapy: which is right for you

There tends to be an overlap in the conditions that are treated by both physiotherapy and chiropractic care. For instance, both modalities treat musculoskeletal conditions, relieve pain, and stiffness, and improve mobility and general functionality. However, based on the origin of pain and discomfort, treatment may vary. If symptoms are a result of spinal or neurological conditions, seeking treatment from a chiropractor is recommended. On the other hand, if symptoms are associated with a musculoskeletal condition, physical therapy is the best route. 

Integrating chiropractic and physiotherapy for optimal health benefits

Regardless of the differences, following a holistic approach that involves both physical therapy and chiropractic care can effectively aid in speedy recovery. At Physiotattva, our experts are trained and equipped in offering advanced chiropractic care and physical therapy. With a comprehensive diagnosis, they follow an integrative approach to reduce distressing symptoms and improve overall well-being. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Are chiropractic and physiotherapy treatments safe?

When performed by experts specialized in the fields of chiropractic and physiotherapy treatments, safety is always ensured. During adjustments, exercise, and stretches, subtle discomfort may be felt. However, we carefully conduct procedures keeping in mind the severity of the condition. 

Can chiropractic and physiotherapy be used together?

A treatment plan can integrate chiropractic care and physiotherapy. Since both these approaches provide a wide range of benefits, incorporating their techniques to treat a physiological condition will only provide long-term benefits. 

Can chiropractic and physiotherapy be used as an alternative to medication or surgery?

Chiropractic services and physiotherapy are considered to be great alternatives to medication and surgery. The non-invasive and drug-free techniques have aided in a smooth recovery. However, depending on the severity of the condition, surgery or medication may be required in addition to physical therapy and chiropractic services. 

Are chiropractors and physiotherapists able to diagnose and treat medical conditions?

Both professionals are capable of diagnosing and treating medical conditions. However, chiropractors specialize in treating mechanical disorders of the musculoskeletal system and physiotherapists focus on a wide range of neurological, vestibular, musculoskeletal, and geriatric conditions. 

How are chiropractic and physiotherapy different from each other?

Chiropractic services involve manipulation and adjustment of the musculoskeletal system (especially the spine). On the other hand, physiotherapy uses various techniques including exercises, electrotherapy, hydrotherapy, massages, and acupuncture to treat physiological conditions.