What Is The Difference Between A Chiropractor And A Physical Therapist?

What Is The Difference Between A Chiropractor And A Physical Therapist?

Health care is a complex thing. There are so many different types of health care and health care specialists that it can be confusing to determine who to visit for care. Take chiropractors and physical therapists for example. These two health care professionals may seem similar but are different in many ways including their treatment plans, their education, and even who should see them for care.

In this week’s blog we are going to compare the two professions as well as if you can do them at the same time.

We must begin with the difference between a chiropractor and a physical therapist. First of all, a chiropractor is someone that specializes in the nervous system and the boney alignment of the spine, pelvis and extremities. Their care is based on a properly aligned spine with a healthy nervous system functioning at its best.

A physical therapist focuses on the muscles and the soft tissues of the spine, pelvis and extremities. More often than not when you hear of a physical therapist, you also hear the word rehab. This is because physical therapists work with these muscles and soft tissue to rehabilitate them back to as normal as possible.

A chiropractor’s care plan may include many different things: a spinal adjustment, spinal traction, non-surgical spinal decompression, exercises, laser, nutritional advice and more. Certain chiropractors offer addition comfort measures like the application of heat and ice, maybe even stretching, and other interventions. The great thing about chiropractic care is that it is so diverse that care is truly individualized and tailored to the patient, it is not a ‘one size fits all’ treatment.

Care provided by a physical therapist focuses on the muscular system. Therefore it has more focus on strength training, stretching, and balance. More often than not those who seek out treatment from a physical therapist are those who have suffered from an injury and the geriatric population who may struggle with poor balance, strength and mobility. Physical therapists are a great addition to any health care team plan because they, alongside chiropractors, can work to help a patient become more independent and get their life back again.

In addition the treatment differences between chiropractors and physical therapists, there are educational differences as well. When studying to become a physical therapist you need to achieve a DPT degree, or a Doctor of Physical Therapy. Up until that point you need a high school degree, bachelor’s degree, and then acceptance into a program that offers the DPT degree. Most of the DPT programs take approximately 3 years to complete, but some can go longer. In contrast, to become a chiropractor you need to achieve a Doctor of Chiropractic degree. This can be achieved at a chiropractic school and can take up to 3 years or more. Prior to that you need a high school degree, a bachelor’s degree, and pre-med requirements.

Now that we understand more about chiropractors and physical therapists, how do you know who to schedule a visit with. Well more often than not, if you are in need of physical therapy you will have receive a script for a particular place or treatment made by your health care provider, like an orthopedic or pain management doctor. If you are experiencing more issues with your muscular system, then a physical therapist is someone you want to see.

Schedule with a chiropractor if you experiencing more skeletal issues, such as back pain, neck pain, headaches, scoliosis, sports injuries, neuropathy, numbness, etc. It is also common for wellness chiropractic visits to help prevent injuries from starting.
The important difference to note between a chiropractor and a physical therapist is that you do not need a prescription to see a chiropractor. You may be recommend to one, but anyone can schedule an appointment with a chiropractor. It is important to note that just because you don’t need a prescription to see a chiropractor, you still need a thorough evaluation, exam and possibly X-rays to rule out any contraindications to chiropractic adjusting.

Now that there is a better understanding between chiropractors and physical therapists, the big question is can you be treated by both? The easy answer is yes!

In fact, more often than not chiropractors and physical therapists will work alongside each other in creating the ideal plan of care for each patient. This gives the patient the best chance for recovery by giving them the chiropractic/PT edge. However, there are some special circumstances where co-management may not be warranted. That’s why a prescription is needed. In that case, talk to your health care provider about when your treatment plan can include both chiropractic and physical therapy. A proper balance of health care providers can make all the difference in someone’s care and long term goals.

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