How Are Chiropractors and Physical Therapists Different?

To the casual observer, chiropractors and physical therapists seem almost indistinguishable. The goals of each treatment are very similar, but the approach that each uses is different. Chiropractic care and physiotherapy can be complementary to one another. In other words, although they are different, they can work together to help you feel better.

Where Treatment Takes Place

Chiropractic adjustment requires the use of a special table and other unique equipment. Therefore, treatment usually takes place in a space devoted to the purpose, whether that be a standalone clinic or a dedicated space in a larger health care facility.

While some types of physical therapy also use special equipment, modifications can be made that make them unnecessary. Therefore, physical therapy can take place anywhere, in a clinic, a hospital, or a patient’s home.

What Treatment Entails

Both chiropractic care and physical therapy can involve manual manipulation, or in other words, a literal hands-on approach to treatment. Chiropractic manipulation involves adjustment of a body structure, typically a joint, that is misaligned. Sometimes the chiropractor uses a small manual tool instead of bare hands, but manipulation is central to the practice.

In physical therapy, manual manipulation can involve massage of muscles and joints for pain relief or exercises for stretching and strengthening. Such exercises may be either passive or active-assisted. In passive exercises, the physical therapist is wholly responsible for moving the affected part of the body through range of motion without any effort on the part of the patient. With active-assisted exercise, the patient moves the affected part to the extent of his or her ability with the therapist helping when the patient is unable to do any more alone.

Physical therapy involves many other treatments besides manual manipulation. These include guided exercise and pain relief modalities, such as cryotherapy and iontophoresis.

What Goals Each Practitioner Has for Patients

Both physical therapy and chiropractic care hope to achieve long-term pain relief for their patients. Chiropractic focuses more on relieving the pain by helping the body heal itself, thus treating the underlying cause. Physical therapy focuses more on improving movement and function by relieving pain and getting the body back to where it was before the pain started.

The goals of chiropractic care and physical therapy are complementary to one other. Chiropractic treatment from an experienced chiropractor, like from Mid-Atlantic Spinal Rehab & Chiropractic, can relieve pain but does little to help secondary symptoms, such as atrophy and stiffness from disuse of painful muscles. Physical therapy can address these through strengthening and flexibility exercises.

A medical doctor may refer you to a physical therapist, chiropractor, or both. However, a referral may not be necessary for treatment. Contact an office for an initial chiropractic evaluation.