Many patients coming to see a physical therapist have likely at some point considered going to a chiropractor. Both doctors evaluate and treat similar conditions and areas of the body. So you may wonder, What is the difference between physical therapy and chiropractic care? After an injury, how do I decide which one is best for me? Could I benefit from co-treatment? If you are in pain from an injury, both chiropractors and physical therapists can be beneficial to your recovery. However, there are a few differences to consider, primarily in their treatment philosophy and clinical expertise.

Chiropractic Care

Chiropractic care emphasizes diagnosing and treating the nervous system and body region(s) affected following an injury.  Chiropractors evaluate spinal and surrounding joint mechanics and alignment and its impact on how your tissues respond to various tests.  The foundation of chiropractic medicine is based on the primary treatment technique known as spinal manipulation with spinal subluxations, or misalignments, as its primary focus.

The purpose of spinal manipulation is to restore a patient’s mobility, thereby decreasing pain, and improving both mobility and function. Also, chiropractors manipulate outside of the spine (hip, knee, etc.) and provide nutritional counseling and supplementation recommendations based on the needs of a patient.  Typical chiropractic visits can range from 15-30 minutes, 2-3 times a week for initial treatment, with a duration of treatment lasting up to several months, and then for maintenance as needed depending on the goals of the patient.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is a unique science and art that utilizes a variety of clinically proven treatments to improve a patient’s strength, range of motion, and/or balance.  A physical therapist is an expert in human movement and focuses on how the body moves as a whole. Physical therapists evaluate, diagnose, and treat muscle, joint, bone, and neurological injuries. Physical therapists work to restore a patient’s mobility and ultimately improve their function by treating observed impairments.

The Foundation of Physical Therapy Treatment

The foundation of physical therapy treatment is based on four primary focuses: patient education, manual (hands-on) therapy, therapeutic exercise prescription, and functional movement training. Physical therapists also can perform spinal and other manipulations, but use various other techniques as well to increase joint mobility. Patients are prescribed a home exercise program during treatment, which is monitored and updated as the patient progresses. Physical therapists are also committed to promoting health and wellness through risk factor identification and preventative injury screens. Outpatient treatments usually last 60-75 minutes, 2-3 times a week, for a total duration of 4-12 weeks, depending on the case.

Final Words

In some cases, physical therapy and chiropractic care combined is appropriate to decrease recovery time and increase mobility. Because these doctors see things through a slightly different lens, patients can benefit from the diagnostic and treatment skills utilized by both these trained professionals. Understanding what different healthcare providers specifically offer is important. It allows you to advocate for your own health and empowers you to make the right healthcare decisions for you!