Physical Therapist vs. Chiropractor: Which is Right For You?

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If you've got aches and pains, good news is on the way: There are two types of experts ready to help. Physical therapists and chiropractors are both known for treating body trouble, from a sore neck to injuries from serious accidents—but to decide which one is right for you, it's important to understand who these experts are, what they do, and how their approaches differ. Get ready to send your pain packing. Here's what you need to know about doing physical therapy vs. visiting a chiropractor.

What to Know About Physical Therapy

A physical therapist, also known as a physiotherapist, can be one of your first defenses against pain. Their main goal is helping you recover, which means you may not have to keep visiting them once you have the tools, knowledge, or physical strength you need to continue on your own. However, like most aspects of medicine, everyone's physical therapy journey is different. So before deciding if this is the right path for you, it helps to know the basics of physical therapy.

What do they treat?

Physical therapy can treat a wide range of physical issues, including:

  • injuries from serious accidents
  • repetitive movement injuries
  • sports injuries
  • sciatica
  • arthritis
  • joint swelling
  • joint damage
  • and more

How do they do it?

Physical therapists don't use drugs or surgical techniques. Instead, their goal is to increase your range of movement and limit pain as much as possible, all through naturally building your muscles and strength. Generally, this involves a series of sessions where you work with a physical therapist to address your unique needs. These sessions will look different depending on the type and location of your pain as well as the individual therapist's approach.

For example, if you start physical therapy due to a knee injury, the therapist may begin every session with a series of massages and joint manipulation movements and stretches. Next, the therapist may show you exercises that will build muscle and limit the strain placed on your knee. Finally, you might get a list of taping techniques or heat and ice treatments to take home, where, in conjunction with your new exercises, you'll be able to treat your knee even outside the therapist's office.

Other physical therapy sessions may look a little different. For example, if your therapist uses different techniques, your knee could be treated with electrotherapy or physical aids.

Physical Therapy vs. Chiropractic Care

While a chiropractor may have similar goals, they don't have the same approaches as a physical therapy session might. Instead, chiropractors focus more specifically on the skeletal system and nervous system, which includes your bones, joints, ligaments, and nerves--although they don't just crack necks and work on backs. Here's what to know about chiropractors:

What do they treat?

Chiropractors treat many of the same issues as physical therapists, with a few additions:

  • chronic headaches
  • whiplash
  • spinal disc issues
  • issues with spinal vertebrae
  • Improving function and ease to the nervous system
  • and more

They are commonly thought of as neck and back specialists, and with good reason--but chiropractors can do a whole lot more.

How do they do it?

Most chiropractors use their hands as their greatest tool. Unlike physical therapy, where you and your therapist have equally active roles in your progress or recovery, a chiropractor generally manipulates your spine and nerves for you. That's because they're skeletal experts, while physical therapy more often involves muscles and soft tissue.

It's also important to consider that many chiropractic solutions can create immediate or almost-immediate relief, making them a significant option for pain management. Depending on your specific needs, a chiropractor may recommend regular visits to help keep pain at a minimum.


Although physical therapy and chiropractic care are two similar approaches involving body manipulation and solutions other than drugs or surgery, they treat different things and use different tools--and one may be better for your needs than the other. It's important to do your research, call a few experts in both practices, and find out what's right for your body, pain, and lifestyle. You can also use physical therapy or a chiropractor along with medicine or other pain management approaches, so remember to reach out to your primary care physician as well.

Interested in physical therapy or chiropractic care? Not sure what's right for you? Contact us today for help finding the relief you deserve.

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