Chiropractic or Physio? – Ace health Centre, Gold Coast


Physiotherapists specialise in the diagnosis, management and prevention of movement disorders.

The aim of physiotherapy is to rehabilitate and improve a person’s ability to move and function, and physios use their expertise in anatomy and physiology to assess and treat people with a range of health conditions.

While physios are mostly known for their treatment of sporting injuries and neck and back pain, they also work with premature babies, people recovering from stroke, those with brain or spinal cord damage, and people with conditions like Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, osteoporosis and cystic fibrosis.

What you can expect in a standard physio consultation

A ‘typical’ physio session may involve:

  • Assessing and diagnosing the patient’s condition and needs
  • Working with the patient to set and attain goals
  • Developing a treatment or prevention plan that will take into account lifestyle, activities and general health
  • Prescribing exercise and physical aides if required

Source: Australian Physiotherapy Association

Physios use a combination of manual therapy, movement training and physical and electro-physical agents. According to the Australian Physiotherapy Association, a physio “helps repair damage, reduce stiffness and pain, increase mobility and improve quality of life”.

Physiotherapy is an evidence-based clinical health science, and practitioners are required to use treatments only if their effectiveness has been demonstrated in scientific research. But as Dr Andrew Leaver, Senior Lecturer in Physiotherapy at the University of Sydney, points out, evidence-based practice is “not a black and white proposition”.

“We don’t have robust clinical trials that prove the efficacy of every single thing that we do, but neither does any profession — a lot of medicine is not backed up by robust randomised controlled trials.”

Dr Leaver says physios use the best available evidence, apply “clinical reasoning and wisdom” and take into account the patient’s individual needs.

As part of physiotherapy, a practitioner will often prescribe a personal exercise program tailored to meet your body’s specific needs.

There is no charge to visit a physiotherapist in a public hospital (a GP’s referral is needed for outpatient visits) but waiting lists can be as long as several months, the number of visits may be limited, and there are fewer services in rural areas.

For private physios, no referral is needed. An initial consultation is likely to cost about $120+.

In Australia, physiotherapists must complete at the very minimum a bachelor degree (usually four years) in physiotherapy, however many practicing physios have a masters or professional doctorate.

All physiotherapists must be registered with the Australian Health Practitioner Registration Agency.



Chiropractors’ core focus is the diagnosis, correction and prevention of disorders of the musculoskeletal system (spine, pelvis, muscles, ligaments and joints).

Chiropractic is nearly always associated with spinal and neck manipulations, but it involves a combination of hands-on care, physical therapy modalities (ultrasounds) and exercise.

Despite chiropractic’s surging popularity, its proven benefit is fairly limited. The only really strong, often-cited evidence is for lower back pain — and a review of spinal manipulation found that it could alleviate back pain, but that it was no more effective than other common therapies, such as exercise therapy.

When it comes to back pain, however, Dr Leaver says this same critique could be levelled at physiotherapy and osteopathy, given the same mobilisation and manipulation techniques are employed across all three disciplines.

“We draw from the same pool of evidence … and you can oversimply things but equating a single intervention (such as spinal manipulation) with the name of one profession,” Dr Leaver said.

In recent times, the chiropractic profession has come under fire for promoting and practising unsubstantiated therapies that have not been subjected to rigorous scientific testing.

While some chiropractors claim to “treat” non-musculoskeletal conditions, such as infantile colic, bed wetting, asthma, ADHD, autistic spectrum disorders, period pain, ear infections and high blood pressure, there is no evidence to support these claims.

Critics argue these claims have the potential to be dangerously misleading.

The notion that spinal adjustment can improve or rectify a host of health conditions is based on a belief held by some chiropractors that misalignments (or “subluxations”) in the spine can impair nervous system function, leading to all kinds of human ailments.

By locating and “correcting” these misalignments, some chiropractors believe they can unblock so-called nerve flow and eliminate disease, infection and childhood illness.

This premise does not fit within current scientific understanding of disease (or how to eradicate it).

It is important to note, however, that many chiropractors reject this approach.


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