This is a common misconception. The truth is that both physiotherapists and chiropractors treat musculoskeletal conditions – ie muscles, bones and joints. Both physios and chiros are university qualified, registered health practitioners with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Authority (AHPRA). Due to these similarities it is easy to see why physiotherapists and chiropractors are often confused.
Chiropractic and osteopathy are considered by many to be complementary or alternative medicine, and some critics point to a lack of scientific evidence. While the treatment techniques used by physiotherapists and chiropractors are quite similar in terms of using mobilisations or manipulation of the spine and other joints and soft tissues, where the two professions differ is how they look at the body and how they apply these treatments to injury and illness. A physio will look quite broadly at alignment and function of the body as a whole whereas chiropractic tends to look more centrally at the spine and attempts to attribute the benefits of spinal manipulation to a range of conditions that may fall out of the musculoskeletal realm. This is the basis for critic’s determination of a lack of evidence for
chiropractic. For example, can it be proven that spinal manipulation will assist a baby to sleep through the night?
Certainly, the premise that a spine can be “out”, a term commonly used by chiropractors is a concern for physiotherapists. Physios agree that a joint in the spine being out is a serious injury and is not as common as chiropractors would have you believe. If you have a true dislocation of your spine you need to be attended to medically and a physiotherapist would certainly not be performing a manipulation to put it back “in”. It is more likely that this is an easier way to explain the complex dysfunction that is back pain and possibly a scare to ensure patients adhere and comply with treatment. However, physiotherapists would prefer to help you to understand the symptoms you’re experiencing and work together with you on a treatment path toward the outcomes you want to achieve rather than scare you into coming back again and again.