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Physio, Massage Therapist, Chiropractor: What’s the Difference?

Physiotherapists, massage therapists and chiropractors are all manual therapists with similarities and differences. There are certain situations where one therapist would be more appropriate than the other, which I will talk about in this article. However, what is most important is that the practitioner is insured, qualified and completes CPD (continued professional development) to ensure they are up to date with research and techniques.


A chiropractor focuses on the spine of the horse and its effect on the nervous system. Chiropractic work involves the application of high-velocity, low-amplitude thrusts to induce relief in joints, muscles and reflexes. Chiropractors believe that a healthy spine and nerves are essential for the health of the whole body.

Chiropractors are particularly useful where joint motion is reduced or pain is apparent - for example, arthritic joints and back pain. This is generally an ad-hoc application - for example, every 4 months - but the practitioner will suggest an appropriate routine.

McTimoney Practitioners

McTimoney is a form of chiropractic manipulation used to treat pain and dysfunction of the musculoskeletal system. It predominantly focuses on optimising alignment of the spine and pelvis in order to restore correct function of the skeletal system, nervous system and surrounding soft tissue. The technique is non-invasive, gentle and readily accepted by animals. The treatment aims to resolve dysfunction and balance the animal’s musculoskeletal system, restoring health and movement, soundness and performance. Their website lists their qualified members:!directory/map


The title “chiropractor” can only be used by members of the General Chiropractic Council. Practitioners must first train and qualify as human chiropractors before specialising.

McTimoney practitioners complete a Master's in Animal Manipulation that trains students in animal manipulation using chiropractic techniques.


Physiotherapists focus mainly on the soft tissues of the body. They use a combination of massage, laser and ultrasound therapy to help rehabilitation at the target injury site. Their speciality is in rehabilitation whether post injury or surgery.

The Physiotherapist might see the horse daily, weekly or monthly depending on the condition, and could prescribe exercise and electrotherapies.


Although courses in veterinary physiotherapy exist, the only route to becoming a chartered physiotherapist is through a three- to four-year course in human physiotherapy, followed by in-practice experience and specialisation in animals via another two-year course.

The Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Animal Therapy lists accredited physiotherapists. See their website for more information:

Massage Therapists

Equine Massage Therapy is the application of hands-on deep tissue techniques to increase circulation, reduce muscle spasms, relieve tension, enhance muscle tone, promote healing and increase range of motion in all breeds of horses.

The main purpose of a massage therapist is to help with injury prevention, maintenance and post exercise. Massage can be given daily for maximum benefit but this is not always feasible so a Massage Therapist may give "homework" to increase the longevity of the therapy session. Initially, the visits may be regular, but when the problem becomes more manageable after additional advice and schooling, the horse will require less frequent maintenance visits.


It is important to choose an Equine Massage Therapist that is qualified through a route that involves practical and written exams. Courses that allow the therapist to qualify in a weekend are not as in-depth and academic as courses that run over a year to 2 years. The following are 2 courses that run over a year or more and list their graduates on their websites:

This is a sponsored guest post brought to you by Millicent Sword of Millicent Sword Equine Massage Therapist and The Equestrian Business Awards.

We feel passionately about supporting and promoting small equestrian businesses and want to help the industry in any way we can.

To find out how we can promote you email



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