Back Pain Physio Or Chiro

What Is the Best Treatment for Back Pain?

Over 70% of the population will at one time or another experience back pain, which for some can be excruciatingly painful, and severely limit your ability to move. Who do you see? Your GP, a chiropractor, an osteopath, a masseur, a physio or do you try to self manage with pain medication, yoga or pilates. Which one is best?

The first and foremost thing you must do if you have acute or chronic back pain is get a thorough assessment and accurate diagnosis by a well trained back specialist. In Australia that would be a GP, chiropractor, osteopath or physiotherapist. These are all primary health care physicians who have the training and skills necessary to accurately assess and diagnose your condition. This is the most essential step in your journey to overcome your back pain. Depending on your symptoms and results from orthopaedic tests - you may need further tests like an X-ray or CT scan to help find out what is exactly going on.

Now a GP will likely prescribe pain killers (analgesics) and anti inflammatories to help with the pain. Whereas a chiro, physio or osteo will not generally prescribe drugs, If you prefer a non-drug alternative than chiro, physio or osteo are your best bets.

Chiropractors and osteopaths both study for 5 years with a majority of their study centered around the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of the spine and related areas. Physio's in Australia study for 4 years and have a more general curriculum that includes preparation for work in hospitals and community centers. Some physio's do specialize in back treatment after completion of post graduate studies, but you would need to check with individual physiotherapists to see their qualifications.

Physio's tend to prescribe exercises to help you self manage your condition along with some hands on treatment such as ultrasound, massage or joint mobilisation. Chiropractors are very well trained to asses, diagnose and treat back pain. Chiropractors tend to use spinal manipulation as the primary method of treatment, which involves applying a gentle specific force to a subluxed or misaligned vertebrae. This treatment is very effective for acute (recent onset) back pain.

Osteopaths are also very highly trained in the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of back pain, and have a wide variety of treatment options available to them. They tend to use a lot of massage, joint mobilisation, joint manipulation, and exercise therapy. They are often thought to be a combination of physio and chiro.

Some people with more complex back injuries actually need a number of different therapists to help them through different stages of their recovery. For example a person who has had a back problem for several years may often need a chiro or osteo to help realign their spine and then a physio to help with strengthening their back muscles.

More and more clinics are offering all of these service under one roof to give the best possible treatment available. I hope that this has helped to give you some initial direction as to who may be able to help you recover from your back pain. And remember that with all health issues, the sooner you get appropriate advice and treatment the better you will be.

Dr Damian Poustie - osteopath - is the director of Premier Sports & Spinal Medicine, which is dedicated to providing leading and comprehensive solutions to pain and injury. Further information from


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