chiropractor vs physiotherapist- who’s best for YOU

As we all know that joint and muscle pains and aches are no joke, especially if they are chronic ailments. They affect every aspect of your life from your physical and mental health to affecting the people around you.

Let's face it, we all experience and tolerate pain differently and that's why I strongly believe that every individual's pain must be treated differently based on so many factors.

When it comes to pain in general, it's really important that we pinpoint where the pain is originating from. See, the thing about pain is that it can be very deceiving, how?

Let's say that you feel pain in your elbow and you immediately think that there's something wrong with your elbow, right?, But in so many occasions, the root of the problem is actually in the spine.

That's why the most important step to get diagnosed properly and know where the pain is originating from.

Chiropractor vs Physiotherapist- Who's who?

 It's fair to say that there are so many people falling into the trap of not really being able to distinguish between a chiropractor vs physiotherapist.

Or even worse, some people think that chiropractors are scammers and chiropractic medicine is not real medicine and physios are the only real solution for people who suffer from joint, muscle or nerve pain.

So, it's really up to you to do your home work and find out exactly what chiropractors and physiotherapists do and that will save you time and thousands of dollars (literally) in treatments.

Getting the right diagnosis and treatment will help the body to respond to the treatment very quickly and will heal much faster and you will be up and running in no time.

Bear in mind that everyone will react differently to different treatments and it all depends on how server your ailment is. No one will able to tell you exactly how long it will take for your body to respond positively to whatever treatment you decide to do.

Like I said before, it's up to you to take your time and educate yourself about who's best for you, the physiotherapist or the chiropractor? Knowing and pinpointing the actual root of your ailment will make your life even more easier and saves you a lot of headaches.

This comprehensive guide will dissect every aspect of physiotherapy and chiropractic medicines and show you how you can pick the right treatment for your individual ailment.

Chiropractor vs Physiotherapist- What do they do EXACTLY?

Generally speaking, I would say 99% of people who go to  a chiro or a physio because they are suffering from muscular and skeletal pain.

And it's also safe to say that most of us usually suffer from either back, neck, hip and knee pain or combination of a few of these or may be all of them at the same time.

It's important to remember the only similarity between a chiropractor and physiotherapist is that they both treat PAIN. 

I think this is where the confusion starts. Because both of them are known to treat pain, so we automatically presume that chiropractors and physiotherapists treat anything that involves pain in general. 

I urge you to start looking at chiros and physios in a completely different way and that will help you immensely in choosing the right treatment for you.

How many types of pain problems are out there? You may ask.

I'm not going to go through every type of pain out there because there are so many of them depending on the condition and the ailment that everyone of us suffers from.

In general, there 3 main types of pain that we usually suffer from and they are:

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    Nociceptive pain. Caused by an injury to a joint, muscle or/and tendon .
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    Neuropathy pain. Caused by a disease or injury to the nervous system. 
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    Inflammatory pain. Like an autoimmune disease such as arthritis.

Obviously, this is very broad classification of pain but it's a starting point and will direct you in the right path to know what you really are suffering from and what's the best treatment for your pain.

This is the scientific way of looking at pain, but let's look at it in a different way, now.

To me and you, people who visit the chiropractor or/and the physiotherapist are usually suffering from the following types of pain:

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    Joint pain
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    Muscle pain
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    Nerve pain
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    Tendon pain


If you are suffering from one of these pains or combination of 2 or 3, then from my experience, a chiro or physio will definitely can help you to lessen the pain or even make it completely disappear.

Obviously, you need to know exactly what a chiro and physio do before you can figure out who's the best for treating your specific pain.

Is physiotherapy the right treatment for you?

What does a physiotherapist do?

A physiotherapist is specialized in restoring the natural full/maximum range of movement to the affected area.

A physiotherapist uses highly targeted manipulation techniques and certain exercises that are designed to reduce or eliminate most or all of the pain and discomfort in joints and muscles.

The ultimate goal of a physiotherapist is to lessen or get rid of pain by strengthening the muscles in the affected area.

The most common techniques and exercises that a physiotherapist applies are:

  • Mobilization and manipulation of joints
  • Massage of soft tissue muscles to relieve pain
  • Using highly targeted exercises to strengthen weak muscles
  • Using cold and heat treatments to reduce inflammation and increase circulation respectively.
  • Ease muscle spasm by ultrasound therapy.

1- Mobilization and manipulation of joints

Mobilization and manipulation of joints are used when joints are stiff and not moving freely. The areas that often treated by these techniques are the shoulder, spine, elbow, hip, ankle and foot.

The main difference between these two is that joint manipulation is done by applying a quick but small thrust to the affected joint to ease the pain immediately.

Joint mobilization is basically a slower movement of the stiff joint in a specific direction to bring the natural movement back to the affected joint.

2- Soft tissue massage therapy

As the name implies, it's a technique that is used to massage the affected area such as your muscles, tendons or ligaments to relieve aches and pains.

3- Exercises to strengthen weak muscles

One of the most common exercises that a physiotherapist might ask you to do at home are the ones that use resistance bands.

Resistance band exercises are highly effective in rehabilitating injured/stiff muscles and joints. By forcing a weakened muscle to move under a certain degree of resistance that will encourage the muscle to strengthen itself gradually.

Doing that on a daily basis will immensely help the rehabilitation of the affected area to regain its full/maximum strength and range of movement depending on the extent of the injury.

4- Heat and cold therapy

Heat and cold therapy is mainly used to ease the pain and heal damaged soft tissue.

Heat therapy is a very simple concept but yet very effective. The way it works, is by applying heat to the affected area  which will increase blood circulation and that will result in increased temperature.

Increasing the temperature around the affected area will help in healing damaged soft tissue by easing the pain and soothing the affected muscle.

There two types of heat therapy.

  • Dry heat. It involves using heating pads or packs 
  • Moist heat, which involves using streamed towels and hot paths 

When to use heat therapy?​​​​

For minor stiffness in joints, you can apply heat therapy on the affected area for 15-20 mins.

For severe pain, it's best to use hot baths for longer period of time (between 30 mins up to 2 hours).

Cold therapy on the other hand is best applied when you have inflammation or swelling that causes pain.

By reducing the blood flow to the affected area can help reduce inflammation and swelling and that will result in less pain and discomfort.

Cold therapy has so many different ways of applying it. Some cold therapies, you can do at home and some are done by professionals.

The ones that you can do at home are:

Other cold therapies that have to be done by a physiotherapist or the clinic are:

  • Cryostretching is a combination of ice pack application and stretching to reduce muscle spasm.  
  • Cryokenetics is a combination of active exercising and cold therapy.

When to use cold therapy

It's recommended to use cold therapy for short periods of time, for several times a day. You can do it for 10-20 mins no more than that. This is recommended to prevent nerve and skin damage.

5- Ultrasound therapy

Physiotherapist uses ultrasound therapy to increase blood flow to the affected area, which will help in reducing swelling and inflammation. Ultrasound therapy sessions are very short and they usually last for 3-5 mins.

Ultrasound therapy are also used to inject medication through the skin like cortisone. Some people are uncomfortable with taking injections, so ultrasound is used to give the medication through the skin.

As you can see that there are so many different therapies that can be applied by a physiotherapist depending on the type and the severity of the pain or injury. 

The other thing to remember is that you can't only rely on the physio treatments to relieve your pain. You need to do exercises and other recommended therapies at home to speed up the healing process.

How long is a physiotherapy session?

Depending on the severity of your condition but 1 session can last between 30 mins to 1 hour.

How many sessions will you need?

It usually depends on your condition and how well your body will respond to the treatment.

You need to bear in mind that an elbow injury or pain will take shorter time to treat than a lower back because as you know that the lower back is way more complex than an elbow.

So, if you have a tendon pain in your shoulder or elbow then that you should expect  two 30 mins sessions per week for about a month.

That should help you ease the pain. And also, that might be accompanied by resistance bands exercises at home to strengthen the muscles in your shoulder.

Treating a Lower back pain on the other hand is more complicated and therefore, you should expect 2-3 sessions (30 to 1 hour session) per week for few months.

How much does a physiotherapy cost?

The cost ranges between $40-$100 per session. The initial assessment and treatment is usually the most expensive one. But the follow-up sessions  are cheaper and they will vary depending on duration of each session.

In a nutshell

If you are suffering from not a chronic condition like a muscle or tendon injury, joint swelling and inflammation, then I would highly recommend that you visit a physio as soon as possible.

Is chiropractic the right treatment for you?

What is chiropractic medicine?

The core of chiropractic medicine is to treat misalignment in the spine, pelvis, nervous system and joints.

As you might know that chiropractic medicine is a hands-on approach where a chiropractor uses his hands to treat misalignments in the spine and other joints.

In simple terms, if you are suffering from a chronic condition then there's a very good chance that a chiropractor can help you relieve the chronic pain that you have been suffering from for a long time.

If you are suffering from a chronic pain like;

  • Back pain
  • Neck pain
  • Hip pain
  • Sciatica
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Migraines
  • Repetitive strain injury
  • Arthritis

Then, a chiropractor can definitely help you but it will take a considerable amount of time.

As you can see these ailments are usually chronic and they won't go away by going for a few sessions.

Despite the fact that a chiropractor  and a physiotherapist use very similar techniques, but depending on the actual ailment and condition, you should expect to get different results in the short and long terms.

The most common techniques a chiro is known to do are:

  • Therapeutic exercises. These exercises are usually target the neck and back area.
  • Spinal decompression. A chiropractor uses his hands to apply a small pressure to correct any misalignment in the neck, middle and lower back.
  • Stretches. These are similar to the stretches that a physiotherapist would do.
  • Traction. A neck wedge is used to stretch the back. By separating the vertebrates from one another will lead to disc decompression and that will decrease the pain in the back and neck.  

Remember that I would only consider visiting a chiropractor if I'm suffering from a chronic ailment that involves the spine and the back.

This is where people get mixed up and not sure who's best for what.

That's why I would strongly recommend that you go and see a chiropractor if you are suffering from back and neck pain. Chiropractic is very effective at treating misalignment in the spine and other conditions that are connected to the spine and the nervous system.

How long is an adjustment session?

Depending on your age, if you are between 15-50 years old, then it would take a chiro around 40 seconds to do the adjustment to the neck, middle and lower back.

If you are over 60 years of age, a chiropractor might use an adjusting gun to do the adjustments as using the hands can be aggressive and might lead to more back and neck discomfort and pain.

You should expect these sessions to last just over 90 seconds up to 2 mins.

How many sessions will you need?

Like I pointed out earlier that you only need a chiropractor if you are suffering from a chronic condition like misalignment in the back/neck or you have had migraines and joint pain for over a year or 2 and possibly longer.

These are chronic ailments and because of that, they will take longer time to see relief  than if you visited a physiotherapy to treat an elbow or a tendon. 

From my experience and other people's that I talked to at the clinic that I go to, you must be committed to stick around for at least 6 months for the treatment to start working.

And you will probably be asked to do 2-3 sessions per week for the first 4-6 months, thereafter, the sessions will be reduced to 1-2 sessions per week depending on the your body's response to the treatment.

Correcting a misalignment in the back and neck will always going to be a very slow process.

Why is that, you may ask?

if you look closely at the back and neck, you will realize that they are very complex and made of so many different muscles, nerves, bones and lubricants.

That's why when treating them the right way will not going to be as simple as treating a muscle or a knee or elbow pain (assuming the pain is muscular or tendon related and not nerve pain).

How much a chiropractor will cost you?

It's around $40 per session and you will need to take an X-ray every year to see the progress and that will cost you around $100 per X-ray.

It's a lot of money and there's no doubt about it but again it's your health that is on the line, so it's important to make the right decision. And don't forget that every day you procrastinate your pain and condition will get worse.

In a nutshell

If you are suffering from chronic ailments like back and neck pain, migraines, nerve pain, sciatica, then I would definitely recommend seeing a chiropractor and most importantly, you must be patient because it's going to take a while to see results but it will be worth it at the end.

How to maintain?

So, you went to the physiotherapist or chiropractor and you are starting to see improvement and the pain is going away, what do you do next?

When it comes to muscle and tendon injuries, after the treatment and the rehabilitating  process,  it's easy to maintain a pain-free muscle on your own and without keep revisiting the physiotherapist.

But when it come to maintaining a pain-free back, neck, sciatica and pinched nerve, it's way more complicated.

There are two ways to maintain a healthy neck and back and this is how I have been doing all these years.

1- Keep doing chiropractic adjustments

There are so many people when they start to see the amazing results that they get from chiropractic adjustments they decide to keep doing adjustments.

When you feel that your nerve and your back is healthy again, you can maintain that by doing 1-2 adjustments per month. 

I can't stress that enough. If you are able to do that, then you are not only going to save so much money but you will be pain free for life.

The fact of the matter is that if you don't maintain a healthy back, then the pain will eventually come back in the future. 

2- Do functional resistance training and yoga

Functional training and yoga have been proven to be very effective in strengthening the lower back, core, knees and much more. 

Functional resistance training is designed to target and strengthen the muscles that we use in our daily lives like the core, lower back and knees, which are the areas that are most prone to injury.

The core functionality of functional training is that it improves muscle and joint mobility and stability.

There are countless of studies that were carried out to examine the effectiveness of functional training on strengthening and restoring muscle and joint strength, balance and most importantly relieve joint pain.

One of the studies concluded that functional training was very effective in increasing muscle strength by 58%. And also, improving joint mobility and stability by 158% compared to individuals that used gym equipment.

Yoga on the other hand is very effective in strengthening the small muscles that hold our joints together. And also, improves flexibility, blood circulation and my absolute favorite  relieves stress. 

Final words

So, now that you know who's who, you are now be able to figure out who's the best for your specific ailment.

From my own experience, if I'm suffering from nerve, back, neck or hip pain, then I would go to a chiropractor. But if I'm suffering from an injury, tendon or muscle pain, then physiotherapist is the best solution.

And don't forger that maintaining a healthy joints and muscles is as important as the treatments themselves..

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Bachelor's degree in Pharmaceutical science and extensive experience working in the health and dietary supplement industries

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