Chiropractor vs Physical Therapist: Which One Is Right For You?

November 6, 2023
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Pain is pain, right? Does it matter who treats it?

Let’s compare a chiropractor vs physical therapist to help you decide which is best for you.

 

That car accident did a number on your body. Sore back, whiplash, herniated discs…you’re in a lot of pain. So what can you do about it?

When it comes to healing from a car accident or sports injury, you have a few options. You can see a traditional doctor for a prescription (and risk any number of unpleasant side effects), a chiropractor, or a physical therapist.

Is there really a difference? When it comes down to chiropractor vs physical therapist, which one is the best choice to help you recover from your injuries?

Chiropractor vs Physical Therapist

A few decades ago, physical therapy and chiropractic were part of the same branch of medicine and worked in conjunction with each other. Nowadays, they are two separate fields.

Despite their differences, physical therapists and chiropractors both have the same goals in mind: to decrease pain and improve range of motion. Both of them deal with injuries to the joints and nervous system as well as soft tissue and may use similar secondary techniques, such as E-stim, ultrasound, and massage therapy to enhance healing.

This, however, is where the similarities end.

doctor holding spine model next to patient's back

 

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Same Goal, Different Methods

Their goals might be similar, but there is a big difference between physical therapy and chiropractic care.

Chiropractors primarily use hands-on manipulation to bring the spine and other joints back into alignment.

Although they do deal with soft tissue injuries and often have a massage therapist on staff, their primary focus is usually on proper alignment of the joints, which will alleviate pressure on the nerves that causes the muscle to spasm.

Physical therapists, on the other hand, primarily focus on muscles and movement. Patients are instructed in a series of exercises designed to build strength and flexibility. If joint misalignments are addressed at all, physical therapy relies on strengthening muscles to help pull the joints back into place.

Another major difference between the two are the degree programs.

Chiropractors spend roughly eight years earning a doctorate of chiropractic degree, during which they study a wide variety of subjects similar to any other medical doctor. After this, they may refer to themselves as a doctor of chiropractic (D.C.).

With physical therapists, things are a little less clear.

Some professionals hold a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree, while others do not. Beginning in 2016, the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) requires all entry-level physical therapy programs to switch to a DPT program.

This means that any physical therapist that has graduated after January of 2016 can (and should) be referred to as a doctor of physical therapy. However, physical therapists that graduated before that date are not considered doctors and might only have a bachelor’s degree.

If you undergo physical therapy, it is safe to assume that a DPT is at least overseeing your care (even if they are doing so from an office). Doctors of chiropractic, on the other hand, provide much more “hands-on” medical treatment.

 

Chiropractor vs Physiotherapist

Another area of confusion is the difference between chiropractic care and physiotherapy.

Physical therapy takes a much more exercise-based approach, focusing on strengthening the muscles to decrease pain and improve functional mobility. Physiotherapy, on the other hand, focuses more on medical massage techniques and stretching.

In this way, physiotherapy is a lot closer to chiropractic care than you might have realized!

Many chiropractors have medical massage therapists on staff to provide supplementary healthcare techniques, such as neural relax therapy, PNF stretching, hot and cold therapy, vacuum cupping, and more.

 

Which One Is Right For You?

If both chiropractors and physical therapists treat joint back, neck pain, back pain, and other similar injuries, how do you know which one is best for you? If you haven’t gone to a medical practitioner yet, you probably don’t even know the true cause of your injury.

Here are a few questions to help you decide.

1. Were you in a recent car accident?

The force involved in a car accident (even a relatively minor one) is enough to knock your bones out of alignment. Ironically, in many cases, your seat belt is to blame.

young man experiencing neck pain after car accident

While it plays a major role in saving your life (and you should definitely be wearing it every time!), a seat belt (especially if you’re wearing it improperly) can cause your body to move in unnatural ways during a crash, moving your hips, vertebrae, and other bones out of their proper places.

A chiropractor can use spinal manipulations and other techniques to move the joints back into alignment and allow your body to properly heal.

2. Is your pain due to a chronic condition?

In most cases, physical therapy is an extended process meant to see results over a long period of time.

If you spend most of your day hunched over a keyboard, it is very likely that any pain you are experiencing is simply due to poor posture. A chiropractor can use manipulation and/or flexion distraction to provide relief from the ill effects of gravity and bad ergonomics.

3. Do you want quick pain relief?

As we mentioned before, physical therapists often focus on using the muscles to pull the joints back into alignment. If your pain is a symptom of a misaligned vertebrae, it will take time for those muscles to become strong enough to pull your bones back into place.

Chiropractic treatment, on the other hand, generally takes less time to see results.

 

Aren’t Chiropractors Too Time-Consuming?

If you’ve been to a chiropractor before, you may have stopped going because your doctor told you, “Now, just come back and see me three times a week for the next six months!”

Who has that kind of time (or money)?

Unfortunately, it’s chiropractors like these that give the rest of us a bad name. Like any other doctor, your chiropractor should be focused solely on your health and what is best for you, not their income.

learn the difference between a chiropractor and a physical therapist

Regardless of your injuries, you should expect to visit both the chiropractor and physical therapist multiple times before you are fully healed.

Every single patient is different. Do not associate pain from a friend with similar pain that you are experiencing.

Every treatment plan is dictated by a complete orthopedic and neurological examination. After that, treatment is recommended and performed. Usually the doctor will have you come back in a day or two to discuss a more in-depth chiropractic treatment plan based on your initial results.

 

Conclusion

Regardless of whether you visit a chiropractor or physical therapist, it’s important that your medical practitioner be able to identify and communicate the true nature of your ailment.

If your doctor is not taking the time to correctly diagnose the problem (through x-rays, for example) and explain how it is affecting your body, find someone who can.

At Oviedo Chiropractic, each new patient gets an x-ray to identify the underlying skeletal issues that might be causing their symptoms. Following this initial consultation, our chiropractors will develop a treatment plan specific to your injuries.

And if time and money constraints are what stand between you and a visit to an Oviedo chiropractor, give Oviedo Chiropractic a try! Your health is our utmost priority, and we will never recommend costly, unnecessary treatments.

Schedule an appointment today and see how amazing it is to live pain free!

Justin Cough

Dr. Justin Cough, D.C.

Dr. Cough graduated from Palmer College of Chiropractic in Port Orange, FL after receiving his BS in Education from SUNY Oswego. Before becoming a chiropractor, he coached many middle and high school sports teams including football, lacrosse, basketball, and soccer. He is passionate about focusing on our bodies' natural healing mechanisms and helping his patients enjoy the utmost sustainability in their lives.

For some, chiropractic offers relief from pain. For others, it's about feeling and looking good. Call today and see what chiropractic can do for you!

*Unsolicited advertisements may not be sent to our fax number under any circumstances. Use of our facsimile to deliver unsolicited advertisements is expressly prohibited. Our fax number is reserved for faxes related to patient care only.

Oviedo Chiropractic

Address:
2871 Clayton Crossing Way Suite 1073
Oviedo, FL 32765
Phone:
(407) 542-1614
Fax:
(407) 542-1615*
Email:
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