Who Should you see? Physiotherapist, Osteopath or Chiropractor?

Coke versus Pepsi, Mac versus PC, Sydney versus Melbourne. We face choices wherever we go, and the health industry is no exception. It started when I was at University, and has continued throughout my career. The inevitable question: What is the difference between a Physiotherapist, an Osteopath and a Chiropractor?

To give full disclosure, I am a Physiotherapist, but I have friends and colleagues in all three professions. I believe there are great practitioners within each profession, and ultimately the best one for you is the one that works.

Having said that, there are differences between them. So when you are injured, who should you see: physiotherapist, osteopath or chiropractor?

I will give you my insider’s perspective on all three. More importantly I will also tell you what I feel makes a great health professional, regardless of discipline.


What things are the same between physiotherapy, osteopathy and chiropractic?

  • All require a University qualification of Bachelor degree or higher. Depending on the structure of the course, the student may qualify with the title of ‘Dr’. This does not mean that they are a medical doctor. The title is simply due to the structure of their degree/s. It is not always indicative of experience level.
  • All physios, osteos, and chiros are required to be registered with a national body in order to practice in that country. In Australia, this is AHPRA: the Allied Health Practitioner Regulation Agency. This ensures that strict standards of practice are adhered to.
  • As a general rule, you do not need a referral from a medical doctor to see a physio, osteo or chiro.
  • Private practice consultations in all professions may qualify for private health insurance rebates, depending on each individual insurance body.

Now for the differences:


What is a Physiotherapist?

Physios look at the interaction between your muscular, skeletal and nervous systems to see what could be contributing to your issue. Then they look at what aspects of your sporting, work or recreational life may also be contributing. They use a combination of manual therapy, education, exercise and equipment to create a recovery program that empowers you to get you better.

Physios work in private practice, but also work in places like hospitals, rehabilitation centres, workplaces, residential care facilities and with sporting teams.


What is an Osteopath?

The term ‘Osteopath’ comes in part from the Greek word ‘Osteon’, which means bone. Osteos place a core focus on assessing, diagnosing and treating your skeletal system, and they specialise in spinal and pelvic conditions. They are most commonly found in private practice settings, and look after sporting and general populations. Osteos have a particular specialisation in the joints around the pelvis, and will often prescribe exercise to help you to recover.


What is a Chiropractor?

Chiropractors focus on the detection and correction of aberrant spinal function and its subsequent effect on how the nervous system controls and coordinates the body in response to its environment. A treatment technique that they are well known for is high velocity joint manipulation.

Chiropractors tend to work in private practice settings.

Traits of a great health professional:

All physios, osteo and chiros are trained in anatomy and physiology and have learned strategies to manage your issue, but often the health professionals that stand out are the ones who go the extra mile to make your experience easy, seamless and empowering. Ask these questions:


Is their website easy to navigate?

The website is a great indicator of how the health professional runs their service. If it is high quality, easy to understand and enduational, your health professional is likely to be as well.


Is it easy to make a booking?

An online appointment booking facility can be even easier to use than making a phone call. This shows that your health professional is committed to innovation, ease of use, and adapting their service to suit the times.


Do you receive a really clear description of your diagnosis and management?

Health professionals are often guilty of using a lot of jargon, or not explaining your diagnosis in terms that you understand. For your therapy to be effective you must have complete understanding of what is going on and what treatment is going to achieve.


Do you receive a take home pack?

Your health professional should give you ‘homework’ to complete after your consultation. It should generally involve exercises, activity modification and further reading, and should be in a digital or physical format to enable you to review it as often as you need to. You shouldn’t have to rely on your memory.


Ease of access and communication

Do they get you better and fill you with confidence? Do you have clearly defined pathways to communicate with your therapist between consultations? Great therapists will have secure messaging pathways set up to allow you to ask questions and get responses. They will also have digital processes in place to allow you to continue therapy if you or they are travelling, or working in a different location.


Ultimately, all professions are dedicated to helping your body to function it it’s best. The best therapists will give you a quality experience from booking through to discharge, and will give you all of the tools that you need to be empowered to manage your own injury.