If you’ve dealt with chronic pain, you may have considered care beyond just taking pain medication. However, as you research your options, you may question the difference between physical therapy and chiropractic treatment. For instance, you may be wondering if you should visit a physical therapist or a chiropractor for your back pain.
Though these therapies have many similarities, they involve unique areas of expertise and approach care differently. They aren’t interchangeable treatments. Depending on your condition’s cause and state, you might find one method preferable. Understand the similarities and differences between chiropractic and physical therapy to determine which is right for you.
Similarities Between Chiropractic and Physical Therapy
First, let’s address the overlap between chiropractic and physical therapy. Both can help alleviate pain and address various health concerns. When experiencing pain, you might consider either as a way to ease your symptoms and approach larger issues. Chiropractic care and physical therapy share the following characteristics.
- Non-invasive: Neither chiropractic nor physical therapy requires surgery. For that reason, they’re excellent choices for patients who prefer to avoid the potential risks and recovery time associated with getting an operation. Their non-invasive nature makes them safer options.
- Drug-free: Neither treatment requires medications, so they’re accessible to anyone and pose no danger of drug-related side effects.
- Holistic: Physical therapists and chiropractors focus beyond mere physical symptoms. They also assess lifestyle, social and psychological factors, addressing your health concerns with a holistic approach.
When deciding whether to visit one of these professionals, research their credentials, strategies and goals. Both chiropractors and physical therapists:
- Must have a postsecondary degree to practice.
- Work with their hands when attending to injuries or pain points.
- Treat musculoskeletal problems to increase mobility, decrease pain and help you return to full function.
- Aim to ease your discomfort and improve your quality of life.
One option is not necessarily superior to the other — both treatments can successfully alleviate chronic pain and address health concerns. However, each has unique benefits. Whether you choose to visit a chiropractor or physical therapist should depend on several factors. Learn about the distinctions between these two health fields to help you decide which is right for you.
What Does a Chiropractor Do?
A chiropractor is a doctor trained in dealing with specific health concerns and alleviating pain. This means you generally do not need a referral to see them. They can also diagnose, take x-rays, or refer out for further evaluation or to other physicians. Below we discuss chiropractic therapy, including the parts of your body they work with, what issues they can address and what to expect when you visit a chiropractor.
What Do Chiropractors Treat?
Chiropractors are experts on muscles, nerves, vertebrae and spinal cords. They not only address concerns related to the spine and nervous system, but often are trained in dealing with shoulders, knees, hips and most other joints. One of the primary distinctions between physical and chiropractic therapy is that physical therapists tend to focus more on your soft tissue and muscle instead of your bones and nerves.
A chiropractor uses their hands to restore and realign the body through chiropractic adjustments or spinal manipulation methods. They help ease the pain of pulled or pinched nerves and misaligned vertebrae. Though most patients visit a chiropractor to alleviate pain, treatment can also be preventive. A chiropractor can address common musculoskeletal concerns, including back pain, neck pain, joint pain, headaches and sciatica. Chiropractic care is popular among car accident victims and pregnant people experiencing back pain.
Alleviating pain is only one aspect of chiropractic therapy. The nerves causing you discomfort can also affect your vital organs, including your intestines, colon, bladder and reproductive system. Chiropractic therapy can help alleviate pressure on the nerves that help your organs function, in addition to relieving your chronic pain. As a result, seeing a chiropractor is beneficial for both immediate and long-term health.
What to Expect When Visiting a Chiropractor
One benefit of chiropractic therapy is that you do not need a doctor’s referral to receive care. At any time, you can visit a chiropractor independently. If you do, expect to engage in discussions and create a long-term plan. Your first several visits will be all about evaluation and planning. During your initial visit, your chiropractor will review your medical history, give you a physical exam and take X-rays if needed.
With all this information, they’ll create a customized care plan. Your second visit will consist of chiropractic adjustments and an assessment. During your follow-up visits, your chiropractor will reassess and solidify a personalized plan for future visits. Your chiropractor may suggest nutrition or lifestyle changes throughout this process — a holistic approach will produce better results than adjustment by itself. How many sessions you spend with a chiropractor will depend on your unique needs and situation.
What Does a Physical Therapist Do?
Physical therapy can also address pain and health concerns. Physical therapy focuses on stretching or strengthening different parts of the body than chiropractic therapy and involves alternative techniques. Below, we discuss physical therapy — how it works, what issues a physical therapist can address and what to expect when you set an appointment.
What Do Physical Therapists Treat?
As mentioned above, physical therapists tend to focus on soft tissue and muscle more than bones and nerves. Some physical therapists use mobilization techniques to restore pain-free movement. These include exercises, stretches and massages. Physical therapists often work with those who have experienced an accident or trauma, helping restore full function and mobility. They treat aging adults, injured athletes and people recovering from surgery or disease, like multiple sclerosis or stroke. They help promote muscle movement and proper function.
What to Expect When Visiting a Physical Therapist
You will generally need a doctor’s referral to visit a physical therapist beyond an initial 2-3 sessions. A doctor might prescribe a course of physical therapy after you experience an accident or medical emergency. A doctor may also recommend physical therapy if you experience chronic pain due to disability or age. Parts of visiting a physical therapist are similar to seeing a chiropractor — during your first appointment, you’ll discuss your medical history and undergo a physical exam. Then, your physical therapist will design a plan for future visits. You can prepare for your sessions by jotting down facts about your condition and dressing for easy movement.
When to See a Chiropractor vs. Physical Therapist
Both these health professionals can help you reduce pain and restore your well-being. You’ll find either method can be beneficial and improve your quality of life. You should base your choice on your underlying condition and your current health level. If you need an exam, x-rays, and a diagnosis of the condition – an initial visit to the chiropractor would be recommended. As doctors, they can perform the tests and read x-rays to diagnose your condition. Many chiropractors refer to physical therapists if they would be best suited to take care of the patient’s condition.
Are you interested in chiropractic treatment? Contact Thrive Chiropractic Group to schedule an appointment. We aim to help people like you take control of their health. We’ll design an individualized plan with you to address your concerns, alleviate your symptoms and benefit your long-term health.