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Kids’ Physiotherapist vs. Chiropractor vs. Osteopath

Totally confused about the difference between a kids physiotherapist, chiropractor or Osteopath?  You’re not alone, after all they all seem to treat muscles and bones to help with pain and return normal function and movement. So how do you choose which one is best for kids?

There are plenty of great osteopaths, chiropractors and physiotherapists for kids in Brisbane. The following guide will help you decide which health professional is best for your child.

Kids’ physiotherapist

Physiotherapists tend to focus primarily on the musculoskeletal system of the body: muscles, joints and bones and restoring their normal movement and function after injury or disability.  They use physical therapies such as:

  • Massage
  • Stretching
  • Splinting and taping
  • Ultrasound and TENS
  • Spinal adjustments
  • Exercise therapy
  • Providing braces, crutches and wheelchairs
  • Some physiotherapists also do acupuncture

A kid’s physiotherapist may be a good choice for:

  • Sporting injuries
  • Headaches and back pain
  • Other injuries such as car accidents, sprained ankles and rehabilitation after casts are removed from broken bones
  • Chronic health conditions and disabilities that can affect the bones and muscles such as after long term bed rest, chronic asthma, traumatic brain injury and juvenile diabetes and arthritis
  • Diagnosing and treating problems with muscle tone, co-ordination and motor skills in children with neurological and developmental delays

Kids’ Chiropractor

Whilst chiropractors may have a bit of a reputation as “back crackers”, many chiropractors today practice without “cracking” or adjusting the spine with force.  Most chiropractors who specialise in working with kids and babies use very gentle, non-invasive techniques that require no cracking.

The underpinning philosophy behind chiropractic care is the restoration of normal and healthy nerve supply to organs and tissues.  To be truly healthy, every organ and tissue in the body needs good blood and nerve supply.  Chiropractors pay special attention to the head, spine and pelvis and treat blockages, called subluxations, which may impede nerve supply to the body leading to a range of health problems.

A kid’s chiropractor may be a good choice for:

  • Regular or annual visits, especially after growth spurts to ensure optimal health and a well balanced body
  • To optimise sporting performance and help to prevent sporting injuries
  • Feeding problems, reflux, colic and a generally unsettled baby especially if your baby experienced a traumatic birth
  • Chronic ear infections and ear ache
  • Headaches and back pain
  • Constipation
  • Scoliosis

Kids’ Osteopath

At first glance osteopaths and chiropractors may seem very similar, however, osteopaths tend to focus on the whole body: muscles, ligaments and connective tissue as opposed to just nerve supply from the spine.  Like chiropractors, osteopaths focus on bringing the body back into balance and treat a range of health problems not just pain, injury and mobility problems.

An osteopath may be a good choice for:

  • Digestive problems such as constipation, reflux and colic
  • Respiratory problems such as asthma
  • An unsettled baby especially after traumatic birth
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Heel and feet problems

Osteopaths also perform spinal manipulations and are more likely to employ a wider range of treatments such as:

  • Craniosacral therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Lymphatic drainage
  • Myofascial release
  • Corrective stretching and exercise therapy

Medicare and health funds

In certain situations Medicare will cover up to 5 physiotherapy treatments for kids within a calendar year.  You’ll need to speak with your GP about whether your child qualifies.

There is no Medicare rebate available for seeing a chiropractor or osteopath, however, most health funds offer a rebate as part of their extras package.

Questions to ask when booking an appointment for your child

The reality is that some osteopaths practice very similar to chiropractors and some chiropractors are more like osteopaths in their treatments.  Physiotherapists for kids tend to be more focused on treating specific areas of pain, injury or dysfunction, but this can vary widely depending upon the individual training and experience of the physiotherapist.  The distinctions between all three can be very fuzzy.

Whether you decide that a kid’s physiotherapist, osteopath or chiropractor is the best choice for your child here a few questions to ask when making the appointment to ensure that your child receives the best and most appropriate treatment.  Sometimes it can take a bit of hunting around to find the best fit and at the end of the day it depends far more on the individual than the name of their qualification, so it’s well worth phoning around to get a feel for different practitioners.

  • Do they specialise in kids?
  • Can they help with your child’s condition? Have they treated this before with good results?
  • How many treatments does it normally take to see an improvement?

Talking with your GP or other health care provider is also a great way to get a referral to a good osteopath, chiropractor or kids physiotherapist in Brisbane.

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Janine Mergler

Janine Mergler is a veteran Queensland teacher, graduating from QUT with a BEd majoring in Social Sciences. After many years in the classroom, Janine moved on to academia. She has proudly trained new generations of teachers in her role as a lecturer at Queensland University of Technology Faculty of Education. She has also worked in the Queensland Government as an education specialist, developing education resources and delivering community awareness programs to help families conserve water. Currently she is the owner and editor of Families Magazine, a publication specifically targeted at parents who value a quality education for children.  Janine leads a team of professionals who write about family lifestyle, early childhood, schools and education information and family-friendly events.

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