Physical Therapy (PT) is a branch of rehabilitative medicine aimed at helping patients maintain, recover or improve mobility resulting from injury/trauma, disease, surgery and many other disorders affecting the musculoskeletal and/or nervous system. Physical therapy care is used to promote the ability to move, reduce pain, restore function and prevent disability. Additionally, physical therapy can help to prevent loss of mobility before it occurs by implementing fitness and wellness-oriented programs for healthier and more active lifestyles.
Similarly, Chiropractic is a health care profession that focuses on disorders of the musculoskeletal system and the nervous system, and the effects of these disorders on general health. Chiropractic care is used most often to treat neuro-musculoskeletal complaints, including but not limited to back pain, neck pain, pain in the joints of the arms or legs and headaches.
Both physical therapists and chiropractors receive extensive education, which includes 3-4 years of undergraduate study (a Bachelor’s degree is required), followed by an additional 2-4 years of graduate schooling and internships. As of 2012, most all accredited physical therapy programs in the U.S. award their graduates doctor of physical therapy (DPT) degrees. Likewise, chiropractors receive a doctor of chiropractic, or DC, degree. While both professionals have doctorate degrees, neither can prescribe medications nor perform surgical procedures. Additionally, while both are educated in the diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal and neuromuscular disorders, they are also trained to recognize and refer to the correct medical practitioner when a patient is experiencing signs & symptoms of a diagnosis outside of their respective practices.
In many ways the scope of practice between physical therapy and chiropractic medicine are interrelated. While chiropractors are experts in manipulation and mobilization of joints (adjustments), especially the spine, physical therapists are also taught to perform manual therapies including mobilizations of joints. One big difference between physical therapy and chiropractic is that physical therapists are experts in human movement and the restoration of movement related dysfunctions.
Physical therapists have their patients performing therapeutic exercises and activity to support the mobilization of joints and for the return of normal mobility and function. An imbalance with the muscles along your spine can pull your spine right back out of alignment, so it is important to know what to do to improve this. Physical therapists are able to perform gentle mobilization techniques for your spine and joints, followed by a customized exercise plan to maintain this correction. Physical therapists will instruct and educate the patient on how to properly care for their back to maintain long-term benefits, as well as prevent future occurrences.
Of course, it is best to discuss your treatment options with a primary care physician to determine which type of treatment is right for you.