Physiotherapist vs Chiropractor in Australia: Who Should I Choose?

Written by Scott Gentle
Physiotherapist, University of Queensland
Medically reviewed by Dr Gina Arena
Research Fellow, University of Western Australia
Reviewed on March 12, 2022
Contributed by Leon Mao
Physiotherapist, University of Melbourne

Physiotherapist performing an assessment on a treatment table

Almost one-third of Australians will suffer from physical conditions, such as osteoarthritis, lower back pain, joint stiffness and neck pain.[1] Fortunately, your local physiotherapists and chiropractors will work to help service and fix these problems. However, an age-old debate amongst patients revolves around the topic of "physiotherapist vs chiropractor" and "who should I see?" So you can make up your own mind, our article will compare these two health professions.

What is physiotherapy?

Physiotherapists work in a variety of settings to help reduce physical pain and restore movement. They will use non-medicinal and natural ways to accelerate the body's recovery. Common areas where physiotherapists work include:

  • Hospitals

  • GP centres

  • Schools

  • Workplace

  • Sports clubs

  • Private clinics

Physiotherapists will use a combination of techniques to fix or improve your condition, such as hands-on techniques (e.g. massage, dry needling, spinal manipulation, etc.), electrotherapy, exercise, and lifestyle advice.

Once your problem has resolved or you have achieved your goal, your physiotherapist will cease treatment and discharge you. Depending on your specific injury or condition, between 5-7 treatments may be required for acute issues.

What conditions do physiotherapists treat?

Physiotherapy is practised on the basis of scientific research and high-quality evidence. Under these circumstances, there are many types of physiotherapy which help treat a variety of conditions. Examples of conditions which physiotherapists can treat and manage include:

  • Post-operative recovery (e.g. joint replacements, ACL reconstructions, fractures, post-partum, etc.)

  • Sports injuries (e.g. sprains, strains, dislocations, etc.)

  • Lower back and neck pain

  • Joint stiffness and pain (e.g. osteoarthritis, etc.)

  • Muscular problems

  • Sciatica

  • Nerve-related issues

  • Cardiopulmonary (e.g. COPD, bronchiectasis, etc.)

  • Headaches

  • Vertigo and vestibular issues

  • Neurological conditions (e.g. stroke, Parkinson's disease, etc.)

What is chiropractic care?

Similar to physiotherapy, chiropractors encourage a natural way of rehabilitating the body. Conflicting against modern Western Medicine, chiropractors predominantly utilise spinal manipulation to realign the body for almost every physical problem. However, some chiropractor's will also co-treat with hands-on and exercise-based techniques.

Until recently, chiropractors have believed that spinal manipulation improved the body's immune system to protect from disease and infection.

Unlike physiotherapists, chiropractors work in less varied areas (compared to physiotherapists) including GP centres, private clinics and sports clubs. Although granted the title as honorary doctors, chiropractors are not taught and do not work in hospitals.

Additionally, chiropractors will often encourage a maintenance plan whereby patients will be required to schedule for ongoing appointments. On average, you will be required to attend 12 sessions to notice a significant improvement.

What conditions do chiropractors treat?

The scope of practice is also quite different when comparing a physiotherapist vs chiropractor. Given that physiotherapists work in a large variety of settings, they also tend to treat more different types of conditions. Consequently, most chiropractors will effectively treat:

  • Lower back and neck pain

  • Joint stiffness and pain (e.g. osteoarthritis, etc.)

  • Sciatica

  • Headaches.

Comparing Physiotherapists vs Chiropractors

Although there are numerous overlapping similarities between physiotherapists vs chiropractors, their practising philosophy and approach are incredibly different. Whilst physiotherapists encourage self-management and physical activity; chiropractors opt for more maintenance through spinal manipulations. Below is a comprehensive table comparing these two professions.

EducationAccredited through either a Bachelors, Masters or Doctorate tertiary programAccredited through either a Masters or Doctorate tertiary program
Conditions treatedA large variety of physical conditions and injuriesPredominantly spinal conditions including low back and neck pain
Sessions required5-8 for acute or fresh injuries>12 sessions are often required
Hospital trainingYesNo
GP Referral Required?Not required, however, physiotherapists are the number 1 most referred allied health service by GPsNot required, GPs will situationally refer chiropractors

At the end of the day, it's up to you to make the decision on who you’d rather see for your condition. However, selecting a high-quality local physiotherapist or chiropractor is pivotal for a positive outcome.

Written by Scott Gentle
Physiotherapist, University of Queensland
Published on March 13, 2022
Medically reviewed by Dr Gina Arena
Research Fellow, University of Western Australia
Reviewed on March 12, 2022
Contributed by Leon Mao
Physiotherapist, University of Melbourne
Medical reviewers
Last medically reviewed on March 12, 2022 has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references. You can learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate and current by reading our editorial policy.
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