What’s the Difference Between a PT and a Chiropractor?
So, what’s the difference? Whom do I go to for what?
Before I go any further, know that I’m a physical therapist. This means I have a bias toward my profession, and a relative ignorance toward the skills and education of a chiropractor. I also see many people that had bad experiences with chiropractic but good experiences with PT- which is a selection bias in my favor. Please take these things into account.
Traditionally, chiropractors have branded themselves as the people who will help you with a spine issue. We all think of the guy cracking your back and getting you feeling better. Physical therapists, on the other hand, are traditionally more associated with giving exercises and stretches to get you moving better and in less pain. This, unfortunately, is an oversimplification of these two approaches. In fact, there is considerable overlap in what they do. Chiropractors rely a lot on high velocity “adjustments” to your spine, but PTs can do these things too. They just call them “manipulations”. Physical therapists give exercises, but chiropractors can too. Very honestly, these two professions compete because of their similarities. To further confuse things, within each profession a practitioner’s preferred approach varies greatly: a PT might practice more like a “traditional” chiropractor, or vice versa.
So, what do I do?
The good news is that both can help you. The bad news is that finding the right professional requires a little research. You need to find the practitioner that can solve the puzzle. This means diagnostic skill, the hands-on ability to get you moving better, and appropriate exercise/ergonomic instruction. There are many different types of hands-on techniques out there, each varying in vigor, and specificity. PTs use several, such as myofascial release, craniosacral technique, and joint manipulation. Chiropractors do adjustments, directional-non-force-technique, the Palmer Method, and others. But trying to understand and compare all these approaches (which vary practitioner to practitioner) is impossible. The best you can do is gauge how aggressive the treatment techniques might be. Beyond that, you need to look at the individual practitioner. You want one who is deeply skilled in several different techniques, focused on the “whole you”, and whose style meshes well with yours.
Call their office. Ask what their techniques are. Ask to speak to a practitioner with your questions . Also inquire about the cost, how often most patients are seen, and how much time with the practitioner you get (versus being on a machine, doing exercises, etc.). If it’s a chiropractor, do they do x-rays or MRIs? If so, ask your physician if this sounds necessary.
Good luck with your search. The body is an amazing thing, and it’s never too late to heal!
There are many benefits from Craniosacral Therapy (CST), which is a gentle, non-invasive form of Osteopathic Manual Therapy that I use every day in my practice. It’s great for people who find conventional approaches (such as medications, exercises or...