The Difference Between a Physical Therapist and a Chiropractor

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Is a Physical Therapist the Same As a Chiropractor?

People will often use “physical therapist” and “chiropractor” interchangeably without paying much attention. While some of their medical services may overlap, there are clear-cut differences between the two practices, and knowing these distinctions can help you make the right decision of which method is best for your needs. In the following post, we’ll discuss the differences between the two and the benefits of each so you can make the right decision should you or someone you know be in need of their services.

Physical Therapists

Physical therapists have licensed healthcare professionals that work mostly with patients that have mobility issues. Their practice is in restoring mobility and reducing pain, usually without the need for surgery or long-term prescription medications which can be costly in the long-run. Physical therapists will work with their patients to evaluate, diagnose, and treat their mobility issues and also develop a long-term plan for their patients to manage their condition in the normal day-to-day lives. They can provide care for patients in many different settings, making them a flexible option for those that have limited transportation or time available. Physical therapists can work in hospitals, schools, fitness facilities, and nursing homes and their equipment is minimal so that they can go almost anywhere. Common mobility issues and pains that physical therapists provide treatment for include:

  1. Low back pain
  2. Joint and soft tissue injuries
  3. Neurological conditions
  4. Repetitive stress disorders
  5. Sports injuries


Doctors of Chiropractic (more commonly referred to as just chiropractors) provide health care with a drug-free, hands-on approach to mechanical injuries within the musculoskeletal system, with specific emphasis on the spine. Chiropractors work to restore the stability of their patient’s spine through a variety of spinal manipulation procedures. Each appointment, the chiropractor will work with the patient to realign the vertebrae in their spine to release tension and ease pain. With a proper spine realignment, the muscles in the patient’s back can be relaxed, and the patient can move with less pressure and pain. Chiropractic work also affects the nervous system through spine realignment which can help with headaches. Common issues treated by chiropractors include:

  1. Back pain
  2. Neck pain
  3. Headaches

The Big Differences

 While both physical therapy and chiropractic care utilize a hands-on, drug-free approach, the most significant difference relates to the specific period of treatment the patient needs. Physical therapists focus on helping their patients recover from injuries and work with them to help prevent a repeated injury. Physical therapists treat a wider variety of injuries, while chiropractic work is primarily related to spinal issues. Chiropractic care can also be continual, with patients setting appointments sometimes as often as once a week to realign their spine and relieve tension they experience from everyday stresses.


Doctors of Chiropractic will typically spend four to five years working on their undergraduate degree followed by five years in chiropractic school, with an additional one-year residency or internship. It’s worth noting that an undergraduate degree nor a residency is required to complete their certification. Physical therapists are required to complete an undergraduate program and must have a Bachelor’s Degree in hand before they can achieve their clinical doctorate. To obtain their Doctorate of Physical Therapy, they must complete a 30-week-long, full-time internship, along with three academic years studying physical therapy. Whether or not you should seek the care of a physical therapist or a chiropractor entirely depends on the type of injury you have, how severe it is, and the type of support you would like going forward. In general, physical therapy is a short-term solution that works to correct the injury through a gentler approach. Chiropractic care can be a little rougher and is more intended for ongoing treatment, sometimes with patients coming in for a weekly appointment to have their back realigned. Whichever practice you pursue, do your research on the best practitioners in your area and be sure that you are in good hands to treat your injuries.