The Key Differences Between Physical Therapists and Chiropractors

By: Contributor

If you’re in physical pain from an injury and seeking help beyond the temporary fix that a painkiller can provide, then chances are that you’d benefit from the services of a physical therapist or a chiropractor. But what’s the difference between the two? We break it down for you below.

What do they do?

Let’s start with physical therapists.

A physical therapist is a doctor that treats a patient’s specific injury. He or she will meet with a patient to assess the damage that the injury has caused, and then develop a plan of action designed to restore the patient’s body back to its pre-injury range of motion. Physical therapists commonly use carefully tailored stretching and exercise programs to reintroduce a patient's body to the feeling of a specific movement. Although physical therapists will sometimes prescribe out-of-office exercises as “homework” for their patients, majority of the work takes place in a supervised office setting. While some physical therapy is ongoing depending on the degree of the injury, most physical therapists approach treatment with an end date in sight. That is, the physical therapy is meant to treat and solve the issue at hand, not create an ongoing care plan.

Next up: chiropractors.

A chiropractor is a doctor who treats musculoskeletal and nervous system disorders. Chiropractors also meet with patients to develop care plans, sometimes in an effort to stop a physical problem before it even starts. In the office, chiropractors use targeted force to manipulate, mobilize and adjust the body to its desired position. Chiropractors encourage regular visits to maintain the body’s abilities and keep it functioning at its highest possible level.

The verdict:

While their end goals are very similar, their methods and mindsets vary greatly. Your type of injury, medical status and general preference will determine which one you see.

What kind of schooling do they each have to complete?

Physical therapists are medical doctors. They attend a university for undergraduate, and often have to complete graduate courses to earn their degree. They also complete several residencies to fully immerse themselves in the trade. They work at all sorts of medical establishments, ranging from hospitals and doctors’ offices to nursing homes and veterans’ associations. And while physical therapists cannot actually prescribe medicine, they are tested on pharmacology — so they’re knowledgeable about the body from a clinical point of view.

Chiropractors attend chiropractic schools, then complete a one-year internship. They’re not required to complete a residency, but they have the option to do so if they’d like. While some chiropractors are employed by the traditional healthcare system, majority work in private practices. Like physical therapists, chiropractors are not licensed to prescribe any sort of medication.

Which one should I see?

The short version: It’s up to you. The long version: This is a decision you and your primary care doctor should make together. Talk about what you want to get out of your care and your long-term physical goals to make sure you see the right type of doctor.


McCahon, Jessica. (2017, August 14.) Chiropractor vs Physical Therapy: Effective for the Back.

ErgO. (2017, July 1.) Chiropractic vs Physical Therapy ... Yes, There Is a Difference.

Konet, Kyle. (2018, January 25.) What’s the Difference Between a Chiropractor and a Physical Therapist?


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