Do I Need a Physio or Chiropractor For Sciatica?

By: Dr. Claire Wells, Chiropractor

Do I need a physio or chiropractor for Sciatica


A sharp pain begins in your lower back, shoots down one of your legs and makes it impossible to walk normally.

If this has happened to you or someone you know, it’s likely that you have sciatica—the medical term for a condition in which nerve roots in the spine are compressed. A typical case of sciatica will last for about two to six weeks if left untreated. Getting the right treatment early can speed up the recovery time by helping you avoid secondary complications such as muscle spasms and atrophy, weakness, and numbness. These professionals are trained to diagnose and treat problems with a patient’s nervous system, including the sciatic nerve and lumbar spine. Each profession has its own set of skills, but they both work to get you on the road to recovery fast. Here’s what you need to know before choosing between physiotherapy or chiropractic care:

What is the difference between a physiotherapist and a chiropractor?

Physiotherapists and chiropractors have similar backgrounds and training, so they both know how to deal with chronic pain disorders. They will both use physical examinations to diagnose disorders and pain signals.  Their education, though, varies depending on the country they are in. In the United States, both professions require a minimum of a master’s degree. In Europe, only chiropractors need a master’s degree, while physiotherapists require a doctorate. If you see a chiropractor for sciatica, you can rest assured that he or she has the necessary training to treat it—as well as other neuromusculoskeletal disorders such as spinal stenosis, hip pain or joint pain.

Physiotherapists are trained to treat a wide range of conditions, including those related to the nervous system. They can help you recover from sciatica, but they may also work with you to prevent it. Chiropractors, on the other hand, are trained to treat the causes of a sciatica-like pain, but not the symptoms. A chiropractor might prescribe chiropractic treatment such as exercises to strengthen your core and lower back muscles, or recommend that you exercise in a pool (to avoid overusing your leg muscles).

How do physiotherapists treat sciatica?

Physiotherapists can help you recover from sciatica pain by administering treatments to help relieve the symptoms you are experiencing. Depending on your specific pain, they might use ice packs to reduce swelling, heat packs to relax your muscles, or electrotherapy to reduce the pain in your nerves. They can also teach you how to exercise your core and lower back muscles, which can help you prevent a recurrence of sciatica. Physiotherapists can also work with you to modify your daily activities if you are experiencing a lot of discomfort when you are on your feet. Physiotherapists can also work with you to improve your posture and make sure that your workstation is ergonomically friendly. Improving your posture can help prevent a recurrence of sciatica by taking pressure off your lower back and core muscles. If you already have sciatica, good posture can reduce the pain.

How do chiropractors treat sciatica?

Chiropractors will examine your spine and lower limbs to find the cause of your sciatica. Once they’ve identified the source of your pain, they’ll use spinal manipulation to adjust the problematic joint to remove the pressure on your nerve roots and provide pain relief. Your chiropractor might also recommend a set of exercises to strengthen your core and lower back muscles, to prevent future episodes of sciatica. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, your chiropractor might prescribe an anti-inflammatory medication or muscle relaxants as part of your pain treatment.

Should you see a physiotherapist or chiropractor for sciatica?

Physiotherapists and chiropractors have many things in common, but they also have some key differences. Both use manual therapy as their approach to treatment, but depending on your specific needs and circumstances, you might benefit more from seeing one profession over the other.

For example, if your sciatica is mild and you are looking for ways to relieve the pain and improve range of motion, you should see a physiotherapist. If you have a moderate case of sciatica and want to speed up your recovery, you might want to see a physiotherapist first and then see a chiropractor.

Which profession should you see first?

If you are suffering from a mild case of sciatica, visit a physiotherapist in Calgary first. He or she will help you to identify the cause of your pain, which will help you avoid it in the future. You can then visit a chiropractor for treatment, if necessary. If you have a more serious case of sciatica, it’s best to visit a doctor first. Your doctor can administer a diagnostic test, prescribe medication (if necessary), and recommend exercises that you can do at home. Once your pain has subsided, you can visit a physiotherapist or Chiropractor in Calgary South for advice on how to prevent a recurrence of sciatica in the future. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you might want to visit both professions.

Bottom line

Physiotherapists and chiropractors are both trained professionals who can help you recover from sciatica. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you might want to see one or both professions for treatment. Peak Health and Performance has caring, professional physiotherapists that can relieve your sciatica symptoms. Give us a call today to learn how we can best help you!

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