Many people come to our office with either back, neck, shoulder, or hip pain thinking they either need to see a chiropractor or physical therapist, but they use the terms interchangeably. The fact is that Chiropractors and Physical Therapists (PT’s) are so different in their practices; it would be the same as if someone had tooth pain and they were thinking of going to a dentist or cardiologist. These professions, like chiropractic and PT, learn different information and each have its own specialty. I’m writing this article so you know you’ll know what’s the difference between physical therapists and chiropractors.
Let me first preface that if you ever go to a chiropractor or PT who negates the other profession, please walk away. This person is usually not in the best interest of the patient and their results but more interested in the dogma between the two professions.
History of the Two Professions
Physical therapy was founded in 1916 when the polio outbreak occurred and people needed a profession to re-educate the muscles. The field then grew significantly during WW1, as many people in the army were getting injured and needed to rehabilitate their muscles and soft tissue…which is when PT is the best!
Chiropractic was founded in 1895 when DD Palmer, a magnetic healer, adjusted his janitor, Harvey Lillard’s neck, which restored his hearing. DD felt Harvey’s neck, and on the top vertebrae which controls eyesight, headaches, and hearing he noticed it was sticking out. He then adjusted this vertebra back into place, and Harvey noticed his hearing slowly coming back. The profession began to grow rapidly as chiropractors began seeing people with many different problems including vision, cancer, heart disease, and other issues related to the nervous system.
If I ever had surgery on my shoulder for a tear or other issue, there is a high likelihood I would see a PT to re-educate the muscle and stretch out the joint. The PT would also teach me exercises and other trainings I could do at home to maximize the recovery. Physical therapy is great for tendonitis, sprained ankles, or for a post-op recovery on any joint. PT’s are the experts in this department, and nobody can argue with that especially because their techniques such as ultrasound, dry needling, and specific stretching techniques, are so successful.
When it comes to the spine however, chiropractors are the experts. They detect and correct subluxations in the spine, which are misalignments that can cause nerve pressure. Sadly, with computers and slouched posture only a few chiropractors like myself focus on corrective chiropractic. This type of chiropractic detects the cause of the problem and works to bring the spine back to alignment through many objective tools such as x-rays, postural assessments, range of motion, and stress scans.
The problem is that some people see a PT for spinal issues, and others see chiropractors for physical therapy problems. If you see a PT for spinal problems, so they can work on your muscles, BUT structurally your spine is completely out of alignment based on x-rays, than you are working on muscles on top of a weak spine. Unfortunately, this could make the spine worse as you age because the biomechanics are not properly aligned, which would cause the body to wear out faster. There is no problem seeing the two together and having each professional communicate with one another, but the key is going to the provider who can help with the problem at hand.
PT’s are in the medical realm and great for injuries and problems. Chiropractors are in the holistic and preventative realm and are good for the effects of everyday life, such as sitting in front of a computer, traveling frequently, sleeping improperly, scoliosis, or regular tune-ups for preventative care.
We work with many PT’s who will help support the musculature along the spine as we perform our corrective care work. If you are confused about which provider you should see, please comment on this post or call our office so you can be sent to the correct healthcare professional, keeping in mind that sometimes it may be both.