Physical therapy and chiropractic care have a number of similarities but there are also enough differences that the two aren't interchangeable. Knowing the difference between the two therapies can be important when making a choice about the best care for any health issues you may have.
What is physical therapy?
Physical therapists are often known as "movement specialists" and this is because the primary goal of physical therapy is to provide patients with their fullest amount of pain-free movement throughout their entire body. Physical therapists use a range of treatments, including stretching and exercises to help improve mobility.
What is chiropractic care?
Chiropractic means "to be done by hand", and chiropractors' main treatment approach is to use hands-on manual therapies with the goal of relieving pain and improving the alignment of the body, particularly the spine. Within chiropractic care, misalignments in the spine and the rest of the musculoskeletal system are believed to have wide-ranging impacts throughout the body.
Physical therapy and chiropractic care - the similarities
Both chiropractic care and physical therapy are complementary treatments. This means that they are not substitutes for standard medical care, but are designed to be used alongside it. They are both noninvasive, nonsurgical, and neither prescribe medications. Physical therapists and chiropractors both use some form of hands-on manual therapy and they can also both diagnose health issues through taking a medical history, physical examinations, and medical tests. Both can treat or help you to manage problems with pain and stiffness, and both include a broader focus on overall health and wellness.
Physical therapy and chiropractic care - the differences
1) While chiropractic care and physical therapy can treat many of the same conditions, their approaches do vary. With physical therapy, the goal is to reach the highest possible level of movement for daily function. While mobility is also important in chiropractic care, there is also a focus on reducing pain and inflammation.
2) Physical therapy looks at how the whole body moves and functions, whereas chiropractic care focuses on reducing pain, particularly in the back, neck, and joints in the arms and legs, as well as headaches. Of course, physical therapy also reduces pain and chiropractic care improves mobility, but the focus is slightly different.
3) The main treatment options used in physical therapy include stretches and exercises, as well as posture education, massage, and heat/cold therapy. These treatment options can also be used in chiropractic care, as well as adjustments/manipulations, traction, electronic therapies, sleep advice, muscle release, and nutrition advice.
4) For many of the treatments offered by chiropractic care, specialist equipment can be required, whereas physical therapists can work in a variety of settings.
5) Physical therapy is often focused on rehabilitation from recent injuries and on injury prevention, whereas chiropractic care is often focused on addressing longer-term chronic pain problems.
Both physical therapy and chiropractic care are complementary treatments that can help to reduce pain and increase mobility. There are some key differences between the two treatment approaches that could be important when choosing between them, but it is entirely possible to use both therapies if they each offer treatments that could benefit you.