Chiropractor Questions Back Pain

How is a chiropractor different from a physical therapist?

My doctor advised me to see a chiropractor for my back problem. I would like to know how is a chiropractor different from a physical therapist? I feel like a physical therapist can also help me, but I'm not sure.

20 Answers

Physical Therapist can not make a diagnosis and must only do what the M.D. prescribes even if the PT may has a different opinion on addressing your condition. In addition, a PT is not allowed to adjust you. They haven’t been trained to do so and it is not in their scope of practice.
Hi there,

Both modalities are wonderful and slightly different. Scope of practice can overlap a bit for both. However, if your doctor recommended chiropractic, I would suggest seeing a chiropractor for specialized spinal health. Your MD may have noted restrictions in your spine needing to be addressed. Physical therapists typically focus more on exercises and stretches, which your chiropractor can also give you to recover. Both modalities do work well together also. So, if you would like to see both a chiropractor and a PT, that should be just fine.


Dr. Caitlin Zietz, B.Sc., D.C.
The differences are vast from amount of education to what exactly are each doing.

Chiropractors correct one thing, Spinal Subluxations, which in turn cause Nerve Interference and leads to all kinds of health issues the least of which are simple musculoskeletal complaints. Physical Therapist work on flexibility and strengthening soft tissues like muscle and ligaments. Both have roles in achieving health and can and should be done simultaneously if warranted and the subluxation is diagnosed. They don't the same things or treat the same thing as is commonly misunderstood by the public and even the Pt themselves. Lastly, one is Doctor the other a Therapist. Listen to your doctors first then the PT. Hope this helps. I would consult a DC first as an undiagnosed Subluxation can be made worse by PT alone.
Chiropractors specialize in the correction of spinal subluxations, which are responsible for a wide variety of conditions. PT’s do not. This treatment is often combined with rehabilitative therapies that compliment their treatments.
A chiropractor is different because we are trained to find an correct misalignments in the spine and at other joints of my body. While physical therapist are very good when it comes to rehabilitation. There is also the correction of the spine that must be addressed. If misalignments in the spine are left un addressed strengthening of the muscles, tendons and ligaments of the spine could result in strengthening the muscles in the current position. This can also cause the muscles to become not symmetrical or it can strengthen the muscles to stabilize the bones and joints in the misaligned position.
Chiropractors are different than physical therapists. Our education is very similar to medical school education. Chiropractors are trained to diagnose and treat a specific musculo-skeletal problem. Physical therapists are very good at strengthening up, and stabilizing, irritated and malfunctioning joints and muscles. I feel that chiropractors are better at getting you out of pain, and then physical therapists are better at strengthening up an injured joint or muscle. But physical therapy will be much more effective, if it is after a series of chiropractic treatments. A good chiropractor will be able to get a joint calmed down, aligned, and will reduce muscle spasm and inflammation. After that, you will be primed to go to a physical therapist and get that area strengthened up. I hope that helps you.
If you have any questions, call me or come into my clinic.
Dr. Josh Cohen
Doctors of Chiropractic are uniquely trained to detect and correct spinal misalignments. They are also trained in physical therapy. Physical therapist on the other hand are trained to work on the muscles and movement of the body. There are several levels of education in the physical therapy world, anywhere from a 2-year degree all the way to a doctor degree. I have patients that see me for their chiropractic adjustments and see a physical therapist as well.
Research has shown that about 1% of patients that see a chiropractor first for low back pain will eventually need surgery while 47% of those that go to a surgeon first get surgery. When it comes to back pain, my number one focus is to keep my patients off of the operating table and out of pain. I hope that helps.

Due to wear and tear or injury, your joints and the bones in your spine get pulled and twisted out of alignment, putting pressure on nerves. A chiropractor's job is to put those joints back into place through an adjustment. A physical therapist works to rehab and provide guided exercise to stabilize and improve muscle function. These two professions work well hand-in-hand, but if your doctor suggested a chiropractor, it wouldn't hurt to try that first. The rest of your body functions off of the nerves coming out of your spine, so removing that interference would be the key place to start.

A doctor of Chiropractic is going to address your bio-mechanical alignment of the vertebrae of your back. This is called a subluxation. The doctor will bring the motion back into the joint by means of an adjustment. The joint then has an increase in motion and proper mobility. Your nervous system, that runs everything in your body, is protected by the bones (vertebrae) that make up your back. So, when you get adjusted, the nervous system also benefits. The less interference your nervous system has, the
better your entire body will function. Physical therapists work with the muscle primarily. Your joints "stay" where the muscle and ligaments tell it, and the tension and nervous system tell the muscle where to go. So, when you have chiropractic care, you are addressing the underlying cause and physical therapy is addressing the support system. Which is why when you have proper motion and nerve control and combine it with physical therapy, strengthening the muscle, you can have a very powerful health care team.

Hope this helps,
Dr. Webb
Chiropractors are doctors. As chiropractors, we can diagnose, order MRIs, take our own x-rays, and have full access to the body as practitioners. A physical therapist may or may not have their DPT since it is new. Also even if the physical therapist has a DPT, does not mean they can do some things without first going through an MD. The chiropractic profession is also split as there are different sub-types. If you are able to find a good chiropractor, they will also do modalities and rehabilitation exercises as well as provide adjustments.
Well these days it is dependent on the chiropractor and physical therapist. The scope of practice for these professions are starting to overlap and are very similar.
Chiropractors have extensive knowledge on back pain and is a predominant subject within their curriculum. But not all chiropractors treat equally. Some believe in adjusting with limited other treatments, while others treat with more exercises and strengthen the patient.
Physical therapists can do some great work for back pain with rehabilitation and can even manually adjust (not nearly as much training as a chiropractors curriculum).
I can’t directly say one profession is better or worse for back pain because it comes down to the treating clinicians modalities of choice.
Hope this helps.
Chiropractors and physical therapist are very different, but are both helpful for back problems.
Briefly, Chiropractors check for structural misalignment of the joints in the body, especially the spinal vertebrae and pelvis. Misalignments can cause irritation or put pressure on the nerves or spinal cord. Chiropractors use a variety of procedures to adjust the joints, improving mobility and reducing pain. Chiropractors are Doctors and can diagnose, and can send patients to physical therapy.
Physical Therapists usually will give a patient exercises to do during physical therapy, and at home. These exercises help strengthen and stretch various body areas to help improve structure. Most physical therapists are not Doctors.
Both Physical therapists and Chiropractors can use physiotherapy procedures like electrical muscle stimulation, ultrasound, hot or cold packs, traction, etc.

Recent research found that the best results were reached when a combination of Chiropractic AND exercise was performed.
Best wishes for a speedy recovery!
Dr. Steven Moon, Concord Chiropractic
Both professions are great at what we do, and in some areas there is some overlap. In general, Physical Therapists work at retraining the muscles and body to function properly after an injury. Chiropractors work at retraining the neurological component through vertebral and joint adjustments to restore nerve communication throughout the body. This allows a more specific, and quicker response of your body to heal and get out of pain, and to better prevent future injury. A sport specific Chiropractor can combine the best of both worlds so that you get the best healing possible. But some patients still choose to use both professions simultaneously which can also work well.
Chiropractic goes beyond the muscles. Physical Therapy is also great but I know Chiropractic will get to the root cause of the reason why you are having this back pain. Both PT and Chiropractic can co-manage your health and work together to get you amazing results. I will recommend to try chiropractic for your back pain.
A Chiropractor’s focus is the nervous system. We work through the spine because it protects the nervous system. Every health practitioner knows that the brain controls everything in the body and it does so through the spinal cord and its extensions (i.e. nerves). Any disruptions of that communication from the brain to any portion of the body causes dysfunction. Those dysfunctions could be heart palpitations, HA’s, digestive issues, irregular menstrual cycles, etc. Back pain and neck pain are symptoms that there is a disruption of that flow of communication from the brain to the area that is signaling pain.

As a Chiropractor, I can promote mobility and function through exercise therapy, manual therapy, and electrotherapy. The aforementioned activities do assist in restoring function, but the ultimate source of restoring function is the chiropractic adjustment which puts your spine in alignment. No matter what I use as a therapy to help alleviate you of pain, to ensure your personal level of success I have to make sure that your spine is not compromised. Think about the alignment of your car. We all know that if you are in need of alignment, the symptoms you will experience are wear and tear of tires and your car veering to one side more than the other. When we notice these “symptoms” we can do one of two things: 1. Replace the tires or 2. Correct the misalignment. I believe that by going with option 2, it will save hundred of dollars because I am getting to the root of the problem.

Well, that’s what we do as Chiropractors. We can perform different modalities, but we get to the root of the problem and that’s the alignment of your spine. We look at the body as a whole and assist in the management of nutrition, physical therapy, and pain management. Now, I am in no way stating that Chiropractic cures all because it is my personal philosophy that every aspect of the medical spectrum has its purpose. Many Chiropractors practices are comprehensive and includes M.D.’s, Physical therapists, Orthopedic Surgeons, and Neurologists. What I am stating is that Chiropractic is the best non-invasive and healthy approach to injury prevention, restoring function and alleviating pain. We know that the body can heal itself and all we have to do is remove the interference that is preventing the healing process. Every case is different because we have to take account of past medical and social history, but overall the Practice of Chiropractic can assist you with many ailments. Find yourself the Chiropractor that’s right for you! I wish you well on your journey.
A chiropractor deals mainly with misalignments of the joints and spinal vertebrae to restore more normal function. PT deal with range of motion and strengthening to restore normal function.
Chiropractors are very different. Our focus is on a misalignment of the spine that can cause pressure on your nerves and joints which will cause pain. Physical therapy is great for reconditioning weak muscles after surgery or injury. Sometimes PT will help on its own but usually it will take more to help alleviate back pain. Most chiropractors incorporate physical therapy into their treatment plans like we do.
Chiropractors will address joint mobility issues and identify potential muscle issues. Physical therapist will focus on identifying the correct muscles with problems and help strengthen those issues amongst other things. As a chiropractor, I often will refer my patients to physical therapist.
I think you should see a physical therapist that is experienced in manual therapy. The therapist will be able to perform mobilization and therapeutic exercise as needed.
Very different. Chiropractic deals with the nerves of the body in association to the spine. It also deals specifically to the bio-mechanics of the whole body in regard to motion. If a joint doesn't move or is fixated, all the exercise you can have will not help that joint. So for a quick explanation Chiropractic restores joint motion and its effect on the surrounding nerve tissue. PT deals with stretching and some rehab exercise in a generic definition. They can also do various adjunctive therapies such as ultrasound and electric stimulation which Chiropractors also do. This would be the one similarity they have.