What Are the Major Differences Between a Chiropractor and a Physiotherapist?


When you’re suffering from unbearable pain, be it from a physical injury or chronic disease, it’s natural to want to visit a doctor. 

However, the word “doctor” is way too general. The term applies to several professionals, including people in the alternative medicine sector. 

Physiotherapists and chiropractors are among the professionals generally referred to as doctors. But while physical therapy (physiotherapy) and chiropractic care share quite a few similarities, these disciplines also have glaring differences. 

This post looks at the fundamental differences between a chiropractor and a physiotherapist. 

Who Is A Physiotherapist?

A physiotherapist or physical therapist and commonly abbreviated as PT, is a medical practitioner whose job entails improving their patients’ ability to move and function without pain. A leading Townsville Physio explains that the end goal of all physiotherapists is to help reduce pain and achieve the highest level of mobility possible, intending to improve the quality of life.

Most physiotherapists tend to patients who’ve undergone primary surgical operations. However, note that it’s usually not the physiotherapist’s job to perform the actual surgical procedures. 

Also, some physiotherapists may deal with patients that require emergency pain relief interventions, such as people with partially dislocated bones.

Due to the nature of their work, a physiotherapist may also be referred to as a sports medicine doctor. Indeed, these doctors are usually the first port of call whenever athletes suffer severe injuries. 

The following are some of the core functions of a physiotherapist;

  • Diagnosis of pain
  • Treatments focused on alleviating pain and improving muscle strength, including heat and cold therapy, as well as hands-on exercises. 
  • Evaluation of the body’s movement, coordination, and flexibility
  • Posture education, which often includes instructions on how to maintain a healthy gait to avoid pain and further injury
  • A wellness program to improve the overall health

Who Is A Chiropractor?

A chiropractor is a medical practitioner whose job entails helping alleviate pain and inflammation using a hands-on approach that typically involves touching and manipulating certain body parts. 

Chiropractic care is based on the philosophy that the body can heal and repair itself with support from a licensed chiropractor

To help their patients recover from pain and inflammation, most chiropractors focus their treatments on the musculoskeletal and nervous systems. And just like physiotherapists, chiropractors typically use noninvasive and nonsurgical techniques.

The following are functions typically performed by chiropractors;

  • Evaluation of symptoms based on physical examination
  • Implementing techniques like spinal manipulation to alleviate pain and inflammation
  • Recommending other forms of treatment, including exercises, lifestyle adjustments, and (in some cases) medications


Similarities Between Physical Therapists and Chiropractors

The main similarity between physiotherapists and chiropractors is that both focus on alleviating pain and stiffness to improve the overall quality of life. 

Also, both disciplines require years of education in accredited medical schools and hands-on training to be deemed qualified to practice. And after graduation, one must be licensed to begin practicing. In some countries, chiropractors and physiotherapists must also belong to reputable medic organizations to be licensed. 

The following are other common similarities between chiropractors and physiotherapists;

  • Both evaluate the symptoms of their patients before determining the right course of treatment.
  • Both use a hands-on approach in treating their patients
  • Both use noninvasive and nonsurgical methods
  • Both may treat similar conditions
  • Both may recommend additional wellness programs and tips in addition to the treatments they administer at their facilities


Differences Between Physical Therapists and Chiropractors

Education and Qualifications

Chiropractors are required to earn a Doctor of Chiropractic degree to be licensed to practice. Doctor of Chiropractic degree programs generally takes four years. 

On the other hand, physiotherapists must complete a bachelor’s degree in physiotherapist to be licensed. The Bachelor of Physiotherapy degree program also typically takes four years. In addition to the Bachelor of Physiotherapy, one may also become a physical therapist after studying physiotherapy for a minimum of four years as part of another related course.

Approach to Work

Although both physiotherapists and chiropractors focus on pain alleviation with the end goal of improving their patients’ overall quality of life, these professionals use slightly different methods. A physical therapist focuses on pain-free movements, while a chiropractor focuses on pain relief and spine alignment. 

Still, on approach, physiotherapists focus on the painless mobility of the entire body. On the other hand, chiropractors concentrate on pain alleviation in specific areas. 

Also, physiotherapists typically help their patients perform specific exercises, but they may also perform manipulations for some medical conditions. On the other hand, chiropractic care almost exclusively involves performing manipulations on the patients’ bodies. While a chiropractor may recommend some exercises, they rarely help their patients undertake these workouts.

Conditions They Treat

Physiotherapists specialise in handling mobility problems resulting from surgery, accidents, injury, or underlying medical conditions. Most of their clients comprise patients with painful or diminished mobility. You should probably visit a physiotherapist if experiencing pain or stiffness due to arthritis, multiple sclerosis, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, and COPD. 

On the other hand, chiropractors mainly deal with joint pain on the hands, feet, knees, hips, and elbows. They also help to manage headaches as well as pain in the back and neck.

Facilities They Work

Both physical therapists and chiropractors can be found in various health centers. However, chiropractors work in dedicated spaces and require specialized equipment. That’s in contrast to physical therapists who can work in any healthcare facility. 

You can find physiotherapists in hospitals, hospices, outpatient clinics, athletic facilities, and rehabilitation centers. They may even render their services in home-based environments, schools, and workplaces. 


Almost all medicine-related disciplines pay handsomely. Chiropractors and physiotherapists usually are lumped up in the same pay brackets. 

However, physical therapists tend to earn slightly higher than chiropractors. The average annual salary for chiropractors is $70,945. Physiotherapists can take home as much as $81,997 per year.


Wrap Up

Both chiropractors and physiotherapists are in the business of pain alleviation. However, these disciplines have fundamental differences. 

It would help to understand these differences, whether you’re aspiring to become any of these professionals or are suffering from pain that requires urgent medical intervention.


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