What’s the difference between chiropractic and physiotherapy?

You might think that a chiropractor and a physiotherapist are the same

Kim Le

November 15, 2022

You might think that a chiropractor and a physiotherapist are the same service provider,


You might think chiropractors only treats the spine and crack backs, where as physical therapists only massage and make you do exercises.

When looking to manage and treat musculoskeletal pain and injury, it’s important to seek professional treatment to help heal your condition and prevent further damage. Both chiropractic and physiotherapy are two professions recognised by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) to treat musculoskeletal conditions, and have overlapping treatment techniques. It can be confusing who to see as even within each of these professions, there is a wide range of treatment styles and schools of thought. This article aims to highlight the main differences & similarities between the two.


Both goals of the profession is to treat musculoskeletal conditions through manual therapy, exercise and education in order to restore and enhance efficient biomechanical movement. Both are able to treat common musculoskeletal conditions such as :

Origins of Chiropractic and Physical Therapy

Chiropractic was founded by D. D. Palmer in 1895 when he performed his first adjustment. The story goes, a partially deaf janitor came in to see Palmer, presenting with partial loss of hearing after moving the wrong way and hearing a 'pop' sound. Palmer then performed what was considered the first adjustment. This supposedly restored the patient's impaired hearing.

 Traditional chiropractic philosophy is that many diseases can be addressed by adjusting subluxations in the spine, which allow the nerves to function properly, hence allowing the body to heal itself. In recent times, Chiropractic has moved on from this philosophy due to lack of evidence. However, evidence-based benefits of spinal manipulations do exist. Numerous studies show that:

  • Spinal manipulation can increase pain tolerance
  • There is mechanical gapping of the facet joints during manipulations
  • High-velocity low-amplitude thrusts (HVLAT) techniques evoke spinal stretch reflexes, which result in a brief muscle contraction followed by a period of reduced muscle tension.

Physiotherapy originated in the 1800s by Per Henrik Ling aka the “Father of Swedish Gymnastics” who founded the Royal Central Institute of Gymnastics (RCIG) in 1813 for massage, manipulation and exercise. Sixty years later, physiotherapy was given official registration by Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare, where other countries followed suit. Since then, there has been a general consensus that human ‘movement’ is the core expertise of physiotherapy, which explains its traditional focus on rehabilitative exercise.

Areas of specialty

Because the body of knowledge of physiotherapy is quite large, physiotherapists tend to specialise in specific clinical areas which can include:

  • Musculoskeletal
  • Orthopaedic
  • Cardiopulmonary
  • Neurology
  • Paediatrics
  • Sports medicine
  • Geriatrics
  • Chronic pain
  • Women’s Health
  • Oncology
  • Vestibular
  • Equine & canine


In Australia, both professions require rigorous training in a tertiary education institution in order to be registered and practise. Chiropractors undergo a three-year Bachelor of Chiropractic Science and a two-year Masters of Chiropractic. Physiotherapists must undergo either a four-year Bachelor degree or a two-year Masters on top of a related degree. Both professions cover subjects in anatomy & physiology, fundamental sciences, human mechanics, manual therapy, neuroanatomy, biochemistry and rehabilitation, as well as one year of clinical placement.

Treatment techniques

Chiropractors have had extensive training in spinal adjustments, while physiotherapists may use mobilisations instead. The treatment styles between and within both professions vary widely, even within a private musculoskeletal clinic setting. Some physiotherapists may choose to use electrophysical agents (i.e. TENs machine, ultrasound, heat packs), while others may employ manual therapy, or rehabilitative exercise. Some chiropractors may focus purely on adjustments, while others may use soft tissue release prior.

Who should I see?

Despite these differences, both chiropractic and physiotherapy at Hyper Health are focused on finding a solution by providing both long term pain-relief and rehabilitation to minimise and prevent further injury. Our main treatment techniques for both professions include manual therapy, and strategies that  minimise further injury - which includes corrective exercise, self-management strategies and advice.

The confusion comes because we often have very little understanding of either one. To clarify, there's no wrong answer when it comes to finding a good physiotherapist or chiropractor. If you're still unsure which one will be best for you or if there's anything else you need to clarify, give us a call or send us a message and we are more than happy to discuss what treatments are suited to you.

Here at Hyper Health, our Chiropractors, Massage therapist and Physiotherapists strive on providing quality service. Our clinic is located in Marrickville, servicing the Inner West suburbs of Sydney.If you have any further questions about how we can help with tight muscle and soreness, head over to our Contact Us page, or book in now to make an appointment.

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