The health care playing field can be confusing. Some people swear by their chiropractor, others by their physio. This is a common question I get asked. Even down to the nitty gritty, like who is better for neck pain, for headache, for back pain or sciatica. Let’s unpack some of the similarities and differences between each of these highly educated health professions.
Looking at the surface, both of these professions seem to have a lot more similarities. They will both look at similar problems or conditions; they can both look after you using similar modalities; they can both give similar advice. There are some chiropractors who will practice quite similarly to a physiotherapist and conversely some physiotherapists who will practice much like a chiropractor.
In my experience the main differences have been surrounding the philosophy of practice and in the application of what they do.
Chiropractic care’s primary focus is around the adjustment. The adjustment, a gentle, specific force (either manually or with an instrument) can be applied to both spinal joints and peripheral (e.g. elbow, shoulder, knee, ankle, hip, etc.) joints. The aim is to help restore motion, correct misalignment, break down scar tissue, and restore nerve flow. This can be combined with muscle work such as strengthening and stretching exercises.
Physiotherapists will mostly base their care around making changes to the soft tissue such as ligaments, tendons, and muscles. This is mostly via muscle work, stretching, mobilisation of joints and at times the use of machinery such as T.E.N.S units.
Both professions will essentially give advice and education surrounding exercise programs, rehabilitation, nutritional, postural and ergonomic advice.
Regardless of who you decide to see, there are some things that I would highly recommend take place:
1. Make sure that you are heard during your initial consultation with your chosen practitioner. The initial consult is about you. It is best that your chosen practitioner knows what is happening to you now; how it is impacting your life; your lifestyle and causative factors for your problems; your health goals/ what level of recovery you want to achieve amongst other things.
2. You should undergo a thorough examination. Not just of the area of complaint, but of your body and the impact that either (a) your injury has had to the rest of your body or (b) how the improper function of your body has lead to your injury.
3. As your condition is effecting the way in which you function and perform; and the only way to gauge your improvement through care is via objective testing; the exam should be measurable and reproduceable.
4. Further diagnostic testing such as X-rays, EMG scans, ultrasounds should be utilised to pin point issues
5. All of your results should be explained to you prior to starting care, and a clear care plan should be outlined with pit stops at specific pre determined intervals to measure your progress.
One of the things that I have noted over the years is practitioners saying that they can only see them. That they should not see a chiropractor or a physiotherapist if they are seeing them. To me, this is wrong and not in the best interest of you the patient. Health care is a team approach. We have looked after many clients in a co-care capacity with a physiotherapist, a naturopath, a podiatrist, or their GP. We have managed to ‘stay in our lane’, communicate what we are doing with the other, and get fantastic results for the clients.