What are the Differences between Chiropractors and Physical Therapists?

Guest Post by Lauren Schnidman, In Motion PT, Chicago IL

Many patients coming to see a chiropractor have likely at some point considered going to a physical therapist. Since both doctors evaluate and treat similar conditions and areas of the body, patients 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 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.

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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.

A physical therapist focuses on how the body moves as a whole and is considered an expert in human movement. Physical therapists evaluate, diagnose, and treat musculoskeletal and neuromuscular related conditions. Their goal is to restore mobility and ultimately function by improving patients’ range of motion, strength, and balance.

The foundation of physical therapy treatment is based on four primary focuses: patient education, manual (hands-on) therapy, therapeutic exercise prescription, and functional training. 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.

Consider supplementing your chiropractic treatment with physical therapy to decrease recovery time and prevent the likelihood of future injury. 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 specifically what your healthcare provider offers makes you a more informed advocate for your own health and empowers you to make the right healthcare decisions for you!

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