Parents want to know: What’s the difference between a chiropractor and a physical therapist?

Parents want to know: What’s the difference between a chiropractor and a physical therapist?

Health & Wellness
Reading Time: 6 minutes
Visit Us

Being a parent is a monumental task. Between caring for children, maintaining a daily schedule, and performing the duties required of your job, you may find it difficult to practice self care. Dealing with aches and pains that arise from life, whether due to injury, illness, or daily wear and tear, can be difficult to manage.

Even more challenging is the task of keeping our children healthy, happy, and pain free. Finding a top notch medical care team for all of your family members will be an essential piece to your quality of life.

The Effects of Pain and Injury on the Body

Pain due to injury, illness, or spinal misalignment is a signal that the body needs relief and protection. If pain is allowed to worsen or persist, the physiological changes in the brain can have long lasting effects on body and mind health. Getting to the root cause of pain and inflammation will be essential to restoring the body to health and homeostasis once more. Some common causes of pain include:

  • Illness
  • Excess toxicity and inflammation
  • Spinal misalignment
  • Injury to the body’s tissues
  • Other imbalances of various systems in the body

The cause of your pain will quite often determine what type of care will be most helpful in reducing or eliminating the condition. A general practitioner can offer helpful suggestions and advice on who to see to treat painful conditions. They may refer you to a physical therapist or chiropractor, for example, if it is determined that this type of specialized care will alleviate your issue.

How do you know who to see? What type of care will be most helpful in treating, reducing, and eliminating your pain? Read on to see what type of care will be best for you and your family.

Chiropractor vs Physical Therapist: What’s The Difference?

If the source of pain is due to an aching back or stiff neck, you may benefit from chiropractic care. A chiropractor is a trained medical professional that uses hands on manipulation of the vertebrae in the spine to relieve painful inflammation, stiff and sore muscles, and nerve pain throughout the body.

What Do Chiropractors Treat?

Over 70,000 chiropractors are hard at work across the United States today, and they are able to treat a variety of conditions related to pain and inflammation, including:

  • Stiff muscles, tendons, ligaments
  • Spinal subluxations and misalignment
  • Limited mobility issues
  • Digestive issues
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Muscle and nerve pain

During treatment, a chiropractor uses his/her hands to perform a series of spinal manipulations designed to relieve pressure on the delicate nerves running along your spinal column. The theory behind treatment of subluxations is that easing pressure on the nerves of the spine frees the body and improves its ability to heal and bring about homeostasis, or balance, once more. In doing so, a chiropractor can relieve:

  • Neck and back pain
  • Pelvic pain
  • Leg and hip pain
  • Arm and shoulder pain

A chiropractor seeks to relieve generalized pain and inflammation through this holistic practice, and may not target a specific ache or pain during treatment unless asked to do so. Treatment is typically ongoing, due to the stresses and strains on our muscles and bones, and the fact that they need “tune-ups” from time to time.

How Is A Chiropractor Trained?

A chiropractor does not hold a medical degree, but they are regarded as highly trained specialists on the spine, the skeletal system, and even in holistic practices such as body work and nutrition.

After a typical undergraduate degree, a student enters a 4-year chiropractic program and subsequent residency that can take an additional 6-7 years after an undergraduate degree has been achieved. With up to 8 years of training and some highly specialized options for certification, these professionals know how to treat the human body for all sorts of chronic pain and inflammation issues.

What Can I Expect From Chiropractic Care?

At your first chiropractic appointment, you will likely give your chiropractor an account of your medical history, and he/she may ask you to take set of x-rays so that they can take a look at the health of your spine.

In addition, you may be asked to provide a detailed list of any medications or supplements you are taking in order to provide the chiropractor with enough information to design a comprehensive treatment plan for you.

The more you can disclose before treatment, the more likely you’ll be to get the kind of care you need to effectively treat your pain. Your chiropractor may use a combination of techniques for pain management, including:

Working with your chiropractor and maintaining open lines of communication will allow the two of you to determine which methods of care are the most efficient at pain relief.

What is Physical Therapy?

Physical therapy is another form of specialized medical care designed to treat and manage pain. A physical therapist is a licensed, extensively trained medical professional who can diagnose, treat, and relieve pain related to injury, chronic pain and illness, or degeneration of the body’s tissues.

A physical therapist usually works in combination with other licensed medical professionals who refer patients to them for care. They can be found in hospitals, medical offices, nursing homes, colleges, and schools, where they treat injury and restore mobility and health to muscles, bones, and joints.

What Does A Physical Therapist Treat?

A physical therapist can treat and reduce/alleviate pain related to, but not limited to:

  • Cardiopulmonary conditions
  • Hand, arm, and shoulder pain related to stress and injuries
  • Musculoskeletal degeneration such as back pain, rotator cuff issues, and joint disorders
  • Neurological conditions like stroke, Multiple Sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease
  • Pediatric conditions like cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, and developmental delays
  • Sports-related injuries
  • Stress or repeated use injuries
  • Pelvic floor dysfunction

How Is A Physical Therapist Trained?

A physical therapist must obtain a DPT, or Doctor of Physical Therapy degree, which typically takes three years. Prior to entering a certification program, a student must obtain an undergraduate degree.

Physical therapists, like chiropractors, must complete a number of clock hours to prove their competence in certain areas under the supervision of practicing, licensed therapists. It can take up to seven years to complete training and clock hours needed to be licensed. If a physical therapy student wishes to add additional certifications to his/her license, additional training and clock hours are needed to develop proficiency.

How Can Physical Therapy Benefit Me And My Family?

There are a number of benefits to receiving physical therapy for pain-related conditions. Physical therapy services can:

  • Help a patient avoid surgical intervention
  • Reduce the need for prescription pain management
  • Help in recovering from injury or trauma to the body
  • Assist with improved mobility and movement
  • Improve recovery from a stroke or paralysis
  • Can help improve balance and prevent falls
  • Address pain-related age problems

In general, a referral is needed from your primary care doctor in order to receive services from a licensed physical therapist. Check with your insurance company to see what types of physical therapy are provided, and find one that will take your benefits plan to avoid billing issues.

What To Expect From Physical Therapy

Physical therapy intervention can be employed through all stages of diagnosis and treatment. You will likely undergo a thorough physical examination, and your physical therapist may also request details of your medical history to provide you with the best, most accurate type of care related to your condition. At your initial consultation, your therapist will assess your mobility, posture, balance, and movement in order to provide you with a diagnosis and proposed treatment plan.

Through a conversation with your physical therapist, the two of you will work to design a prognosis and proposed treatment plan to address your specific needs. A number of exercises and mobility-designed movements will be prescribed and practiced in the office at your appointment, with explicit instructions and an expectation set for home practice as well.

Your treatment plan and your ability to continue to execute these exercises on your own time will directly affect your improvement and ongoing treatment. It is essential that you take these recommendations and put them into practice, as it will be an integral part of your healing process.

Chiropractor vs Physical Therapist: What are the similarities?

A chiropractor and a physical therapist may have similar goals for a patient in mind, yet they go about their methods of pain management in different ways. Both professionals:

  • Focus on managing pain and discomfort through non surgical intervention
  • Use hands on and manual therapies to manage and reduce pain
  • May be involved in treating the same conditions
  • Focus on long term wellness for their patients
  • Provide you with a thorough examination based on your prior health history and current needs
  • Are licensed, well-trained professionals committed to finding you solutions for pain management

Knowing what type of pain you are dealing with will provide you with the information that you need to choose the right professional for your specific condition. Some key differences between chiropractors and physical therapists include:

  1. A physical therapist focuses on pain free movement through strengthening certain areas of the body, while a chiropractor focuses on correcting subluxations of the spine for total body mobility and regained balance.
  2. Physical therapy focuses on whole body integrated movement, while a chiropractor focuses and specializes on correcting subluxations and issues related to misalignment of the neck, back, and musculoskeletal system.
  3. Physical therapists ask you to be active in your treatment plan by focusing on targeted, practiced movements that can improve mobility. A chiropractor alleviates misalignments and subluxations so that the innate ability of your own body is released for healing.
  4. Physical therapy treatment can be performed most times without the use of specialized equipment, while it may be necessary for a chiropractor to have specialized tools and equipment to perform corrections efficiently.

Pain-Free Living: For You And Your Family

As a parent, your health should be prioritized. Proactively managing your health is providing better care for your family. You all deserve to feel your best. If you or any member of your family is experiencing pain or has sustained an injury, get to the bottom of your pain and commit to receiving the appropriate kind of care for your total body health. A better quality of life is on the horizon.

Find a chiropractor or physical therapist near you for more information on how they can help you get there.

Get blog posts like these and other tips and resources along with local wellness events in your area, right in your inbox. Subscribe to the Wellistic Newsletter!