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Understanding the Difference Between a Physiotherapist and Chiropractor

physiotherapist and chiropractor understanding the differenceMAA Practitioner Nikki Roughtledge

Understanding the Difference Between a Physiotherapist and Chiropractor

written by MAA Practitioner Nikki Roughtledge

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Here, along with the help of the Animal Health Trust, we focus on the difference between a Chiropractor and Physiotherapist, also known as ‘back men’, or women if your prefer. Understanding the difference between the two can be imperative to getting the right help for you horse.

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“What’s the difference between animal chiropractic techniques and physiotherapy?” This is a question which gets asked from time to time, and it is a valid one. With the increasing number of skilled practitioners in both spheres, it isn’t surprising that the astute horse owner wants to know what each therapeutic discipline offers.

It helps to begin with explaining the difference between what practitioners in both spheres are trying to do. Essentially both are looking at how the horse moves, performs and behaves relative to what might be considered normal, and both types of therapy aim to restore normal function to the body. Just as there are ‘many roads to Rome,’ there are various ways of doing this. Both approaches use a combination of treatment and rehabilitative exercises to achieve this goal, but the clearest distinction between animal chiropractic techniques and physiotherapy, is the focus of treatment in order to achieve a return to normal function and performance.


The clearest distinction between animal chiropractic techniques and physiotherapy, is the focus of treatment in order to achieve a return to normal function and performance.


The McTimoney Chiropractor

McTimoney Animal Practitioners, registered with the McTimoney Animal Association, are the largest group of practitioners trained in animal chiropractic techniques. They assess the skeletal frame, predominantly the spine and pelvis, looking for areas of asymmetry and dysfunction. This can be seen where the pelvis presents with the points of hip at uneven height even though the horse is stood square all round. A horse with unequal height at the points of hip, and a curve present throughout the spine will struggle to work in a straight line, preferring to favour one side over the other, and will ultimately start to resist when worked, usually losing forward propulsion, bucking, refusing to jump or moving stiffly, for example.

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By making light, gentle adjustments the chiropractor is able to realign the horses skeleton

The application of light gentle adjustments to these key areas stimulates a change in the body in all the locomotory systems, so although the skeletal frame is the point of reference, the treatment has a much wider effect improving nerve function, muscle tone and strength, and relieving tension on the connective tissues throughout the body.

McTimoney Animal Practitioner Zara Mitchell says, “I have found McTimoney treatment to be particularly effective when considering hind limb, sacro-illiac and pelvic issues. A pelvic rotation by far is one of the biggest skeletal misalignments that can significantly impede a horse’s ability ranging from a basic general difficulty to perform certain tasks such as jumping, lack of performance and power, experience of pain and discomfort to being the primary cause of lameness.”

.Image credit Colin Davidson

In cases of injury such as tendon damage or other lameness inducing injuries, the utilisation of animal chiropractic techniques can assist in recovery of the horse through gentle rehabilitation of the compensatory mechanisms that the horse has been using prior to diagnosis and appropriate treatment of the injury. If left with those compensatory mechanisms in place, the horse will eventually return to work with a new pattern of stiffness or soreness which may then predispose to further injury in the future, so it is wise to consider this even when the horse is not in work.

The Physiotherapist

In comparison, physiotherapy involves a wider range of techniques, which target the key areas of soft tissue soreness or injury. The focus for physiotherapy is soft tissue rehabilitation of the target injury site to enable greater comfort and return to normal performance.


The focus for physiotherapy is soft tissue rehabilitation of the target injury site to enable greater comfort and return to normal performance.


Laser treatment is used to enhance healing so is good for wounds and superficial soft tissue injury. Ultrasound can be useful for tendon injury and is also good for “mobilising” or “breaking down” scar tissue. Pulsed magnetic field therapy can be great for muscle and soft tissue injuries to support blood flow, reduce oedema and assist in pain relief, and TENS, (Transcutaneous electro nerve stimulation) is also good for pain control and interaction with local nerves reduces pain impulses to the horse’s brain. Neuromuscular electrostimulation can be useful for stimulating muscles to rebuild after disuse atrophy, and manual physical therapy such as passive and active stretches and range of motion activities are useful for keeping muscles and joints healthy by maintaining blood flow, bringing nutrients and oxygen and removal of waste products.

Making the decision

So, which should you use for your horse?  A physiotherapist and chiropractor? As already stated, there are many roads to Rome. To summarise, McTimoney Animal Practitioners will focus on balancing the skeletal frame to restore optimal function throughout the whole body; Veterinary Physiotherapists will provide a targeted plan of rehabilitation to the soft tissues at the injury site. Both forms of treatment can complement each other well, and there are practitioners who are trained in both forms of therapy. Whether you decide animal chiropractic techniques or physiotherapy is the option to choose, make sure that the practitioner you select is fully qualified, registered and insured. All practitioners must obtain veterinary permission in order to treat your horse.

To find your nearest practitioner and for further information please visit www.mctimoney-animal.org.uk or www.facebook.com/McTimoneyAnimalAssociation.

Mctimoney Animal Association logo

With special thanks to the Mctimoney Animal Association

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