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Physical Therapy

Physical Therapists vs. Chiropractors: Which Professional Should I See?

January 19th, 2022 | 3 min. read

Physical Therapists vs. Chiropractors: Which Professional Should I See?
James Ingram

James Ingram

Licensed Physical Therapist, PT DPT // EW Motion Therapy Homewood

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When you need treatment for an injury or condition, the titles of different practitioners can be confusing. When it comes to skilled therapy, it is essential to see the right person, and it is very easy to mix up primary functions. So should you see a physical therapist or a chiropractor for your treatment? Which one treats your condition and is best equipped with the knowledge to help you feel better? 


These questions are valid, and you should see the best person for your condition. At EW Motion Therapy, our licensed doctors of physical therapy can treat many different conditions, including, but not limited to, balance issues, pain related to spinal dysfunction, symptoms of neurological disorders, and rehab after surgical procedures. Even if you do not choose EW for your physical therapy treatment, we still want to advise whether a physical therapist or a chiropractor could best help you feel better. 


This article will discuss the similarities and differences between physical therapists (PTs) and chiropractors. This information can help you decide for yourself, based on your symptoms and goals, which practitioner is the best fit for your healthcare needs. 



How are they similar? 

The primary similarity between PTs and chiropractors is that both address pain. Both practitioners design interventions to deal with pain related to movement, joint, or tissue dysfunction. 


For instance, PTs and chiropractors both treat conditions like headaches. For a PT, treatment may include both joint and soft tissue mobilization of the head, neck, and shoulder, followed by corrective exercises to decrease pain, improve mobility and stability, and prevent future episodes. Chiropractors typically develop plans that focus on spinal manipulation to restore normal spinal alignment and movement to help with chronic headaches. The goals for both practitioners are the same, but treatments may vary.   


Both chiropractors and PTs must graduate from a doctorate program, typically lasting about three to four years. Both must also be certified by their state boards to practice, though licensure requirements can vary by state. In some cases, it may be advantageous to work with a chiropractor and a PT simultaneously, so you can have the best chance of positive treatment response. 


Wanting to try physical therapy for yourself? Click to download our 20 Physical Therapy Questions, Answered to learn more.

Download our Physical Therapy Q&A Here!


How are they different? 

There are a few ways in which PTs and chiropractors differ. The primary difference lies in treatment philosophy: chiropractors address spinal alignment as the root cause of pain and dysfunction, while PTs focus on restoring functional movement patterns to decrease pain. 


Chiropractors can order x-rays so that they can look for structural abnormalities in your spine. PTs in some states and in the military can order x-rays for diagnostic purposes, and more states are beginning to allow it. Also, clients typically have unrestricted direct access to seek treatment from a chiropractor. While all 50 states have some form of direct access to physical therapy, it can differ from state to state. Currently, 20 states allow for unrestricted direct access, 27 states allow for direct access with provisions, and 3 states (Alabama, Mississippi, and Missouri) allow for limited direct access. 


Generally, chiropractors treat conditions that they relate to spinal misalignment. PTs focus more on the underlying movement dysfunction caused by an injury or medical condition, with the goal of long-term recovery and independence. Treatment frequencies, interventions, and length of care can vary between the two.


Which one should I see?

Whether you choose a PT or a chiropractor ultimately depends on your condition or injury, what is available in your area, and/or where your doctor or designated medical professional suggests you go for treatment. There are conditions where spinal and joint manipulation might not be the best treatment, such as osteoporosis or another condition that puts you at high risk for fracture. Ultimately, you need to find a chiropractor or PT that cares as much about your condition as you do. When you do, you can rest easy knowing that they will do their best to help you have less pain as you go about your day.  


At EW Motion Therapy, we help our clients rehab from surgical procedures and manage chronic pain that is limiting movement. Our team is dedicated to patient success. If you are interested in our physical therapy services, fill out the Request an Appointment form on our website, and someone from our staff will contact you within 48 hours with your next steps.

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