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Knowledge Base: Physical Therapy Chiropractor

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Although Physical Therapy and Chiropractic share the common goal of treating pain and injuries, the two professions diverge when it comes to their philosophy of practice.

You can see both the similarities and differences in their official definitions:

Physical therapists: Health care professionals who help individuals maintain, restore, and improve movement, activity, and functioning, thereby enabling optimal performance and enhancing health, well being, and quality of life.

Chiropractic: A health care profession that focuses on disorders of the musculoskeletal
system and the nervous system, and the effects of these disorders on general health.

While chiropractors zero in on treating musculoskeletal and nervous system disorders, advanced physical therapy revolves around restoring the patient’s ability to move and function.

Chiropractors are concerned with how spinal disorders affect the patient’s overall health; physical therapists are concerned with how problems in the body affect mobility.

Other key differences include:

Scope of practice.

While training for chiropractors and physical therapists share some similarities, their scope of practice differs substantially. Physical therapists utilize manual therapy techniques and exercise to treat pain and dysfunction in the muscles and joints suchs as your knee, hand, lower back, shoulder, etc. Chiropractors use spinal manipulative therapies to restore and maintain optimal functioning of the muscles, joints and nervous system.

Both professionals also use ultrasound, massage, heat therapy, mobilization and exercise to enhance their treatments and improve the comfort and health of their patients.

Diagnostic Scope

Doctors of chiropractic are trained in medical diagnosis, which means they can diagnose most medical conditions (depending on state law); however, many choose to limit their diagnostic scope to vertebral subluxations. Physical therapists, on the other hand, typically diagnose only musculoskeletal conditions related to movement and function. Some physical therapists specialize in pediatric care as well as rehabilitation.


Chiropractors are more accessible to patients than physical therapists are. Patients typically must get a referral from a medical doctor for physical therapy (and the doctor can limit the amount of care), but they can see a chiropractor without a referral.

Treatment Style

Chiropractic treatment largely revolves around making spinal adjustments, which often provide quick and dramatic relief. The focus is on correcting spinal subluxations and bringing the neuro musculoskeletal system back into balance. Physical therapists typically design a program that combines exercise and manual therapies with other forms of treatment. They focus more on long term strength and flexibility; it may take a week or two to see the effects of treatment.

What Is Physical Therapy?

Physical therapy (sometimes referred to as physiotherapy) is a type of medical care that uses therapeutic exercise, stretching, and hands on passive range of motion techniques to address an array of issues affecting the musculoskeletal system and other areas of the body. One of the benefits of physical therapy is that it can be customized for the needs of each patient. This means it can be extremely effective in achieving relief for pain and other issues. Physical therapy also works well with other types of care (such as chiropractic) to create a comprehensive, holistic approach to health that is truly patient-centered.

What Happens During A Physical Therapy Session?

Each session begins with a review of current symptoms and an evaluation of musculoskeletal function and movement to either develop a new plan of care or to modify an existing plan to suit the evolving needs of the patient as their condition improves. Sessions can include exercises using equipment like treadmills or weight machines, hands on manipulation, and passive motion exercises to help gently stretch stiffened tissues and promote the greater range of motion. Other exercises to improve flexibility, strength, and endurance while promoting greater mobility and relieving symptoms.

What Kinds Of Patients Can Be Helped By Physical Therapy Programs?

Because it can be customized for each patient, physical therapy can be used to help patients of all ages and from all walks of life enjoy better health and relieve pain and other symptoms. This includes outpatient care.

Therapy programs can be ideal for those who have had auto accidents, sports injuries, slip and fall or workplace accidents, overuse or repetitive use injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome or tennis or golfer’s elbow, tendon and ligament strains and sprains, and chronic conditions like arthritis and fibromyalgia. They can be used in patients of all ages, from very young children to seniors. Physical therapy can also be used to promote recovery following surgery and even to avoid some types of surgery. In addition to therapeutic activities, physical therapy treatment plans also include lifestyle guidance to help patients learn how to prevent pain and other issues in the future.