In our decades in the orthopaedics field, we’ve seen a lot of confusion about chiropractic treatment. One question we hear is: what’s the difference between a physical therapist and a chiropractor? Both PTs and chiropractors use nonsurgical therapies to help relieve pain. But for the most part, the similarities end there. Physical therapy and chiropractic care are two completely different fields. Physical therapy is a component of traditional western medicine focused on relieving pain and restoring function and mobility. Physical therapists often work hand in hand with orthopaedists and other physicians. Chiropractic is a form of alternative medicine focused on relieving back and neck pain using spinal adjustments. Chiropractors operate as complementary medicine practitioners.
What Are Some Differences Between Physical Therapists and Chiropractors?
Both physical therapists and chiropractors focus on pain relief without drugs or surgery. But there are several critical differences in expertise, training, and practice.
- Physical therapists work on a range of issues, including limited mobility, muscle weakness, balance issues, and joint pain and stiffness.
- Physical therapists use various tools, including strength and mobility exercises, hands-on manipulation/therapeutic massage, dry needling, ultrasound, hot and cold therapy, and electrical stimulation.
- Relieving pain is a big part of what physical therapists do. However, their broader mission is to empower patients. PTs help patients rebuild strength and mobility through work in the office and at home and focus on preventing reinjury.
- Physical therapists work in medical practices, hospitals, outpatient clinics, homes, sports facilities, and nursing homes. Physical therapists often work directly with physicians. Many orthopaedic practices also include physical therapy components to help patients recover from injuries or surgeries.
- Chiropractors often have a more narrow focus on treating back and neck pain.
- Chiropractors’ practice centers on what’s known as “vertebral subluxation,” the idea that vertebrae get out of alignment and put pressure on the spinal nerves, causing pain. Chiropractors use techniques called adjustments to realign the vertebrae.
- Chiropractors focus on pain relief, and patients return to their chiropractor when they have pain instead of doing exercises at home.
- As alternative/complementary practitioners, chiropractors generally operate separate practices and are not affiliated with physicians.
What Training Do Physical Therapists Get?
Physical therapy programs are usually affiliated with medical schools or nursing and health science schools within accredited universities. Many of the nation’s top universities offer PT degrees. To practice in the US, a physical therapist must earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from an accredited program and pass a state licensure exam. According to the American Physical Therapy Association, DPT programs typically last three years and cover biology/anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, kinesiology, neuroscience and a range of other subjects. Physical therapists spend nearly 30 weeks in a clinical setting as part of their DPT program, and many follow that experience with a residency.
What Training Do Chiropractors Get?
Chiropractors earn a Doctor of Chiropractic degree, but they are not medical doctors or physicians. Chiropractic schools are usually standalone institutions, but some have ties to colleges and universities. Earning a DC degree includes 1,000 hours of supervised training. Students must also pass boards administered by the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners (NBCE) to practice in the US.
Should I See A Physical Therapist or a Chiropractor?
As a trusted orthopaedics practice, we understand that some patients achieve pain relief from alternative therapies, including chiropractic treatment. At Countryside Orthopaedics, we appreciate it when patients let us know when they are getting complementary treatments as it may affect their medical care. In most cases, when we want to help an injured patient recover and rebuild strength after an injury, surgery, or illness, we recommend physical therapy. Our in-house team of physical therapists is top-notch and well-rounded. Our PT team focuses not just on finding innovative ways to treat pain but also on improving strength and mobility in the long term. We give patients agency and make them partners in their own recovery.