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Physical Therapy vs Chiropractic Care: Understanding the Differences and Similarities

Physical therapy and chiropractic care are two effective treatment options for musculoskeletal problems that improve movement in muscles and joints with the goal of decreasing pain and improving quality of life. While both professions share some similarities, they differ in their approach to treatment techniques used, areas of focus, and more. In this blog, we will provide an in-depth understanding of physical therapy vs chiropractic care, their differences and similarities, and side effects to help you choose the best option for your health needs. So let’s dive in and understand the differences and similarities between physical therapy vs chiropractic care.

What is Physical Therapy?

The definition of Physical Therapy, also known as physiotherapy, is a healthcare profession that addresses the prevention, treatment, and management of movement disorders. These movement disorders can be caused by damage to any of the following systems; musculoskeletal, neurological, cardiovascular, and many more. The field of physical therapy aims to improve an individual’s quality of life by restoring or maintaining their ability to move by relieving pain, and, in general, promoting a healthy lifestyle.

How Does Physical Therapy Work?

Physical therapy works by using various physical techniques such as massage, manual therapy, stretching, and targeted exercises to promote healing and the recovery of natural body movement. It is a non-invasive way of promoting healing without resorting to surgery and medication. Physical therapy sessions should be personalized for every individual client based on their specific goals. In the initial sessions, the therapist performs a physical assessment and evaluates the client’s physical ability, strength, and mobility to develop personalized treatment goals. The therapist then prescribes exercises and physical aids to optimize the recovery process and set the client on the right path to recovery.

What Are Some Physical Therapy Techniques?

Physical therapy techniques include exercises, massages, and other physical aids such as heat and cold therapy, electrical stimulation, and ultrasound. The exercises are designed to increase mobility and reduce pain. The physical therapist may also use heat therapy, traction, and cryotherapy to improve overall well-being. In most cases, the therapist will work with the client to develop a rehabilitation plan. Overall, physical therapy is a non-invasive, customized approach to promote healing and restore the natural movement of the body. The main goal is to improve the quality of life of the client while promoting long term health and wellness.

What is Chiropractic Care?

Chiropractic care is a form of alternative medicine that focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal disorders, with an emphasis on the spine. The underlying philosophy is that proper alignment of the musculoskeletal system, particularly the spine, will allow the body to heal itself naturally without the need for medications or surgery.

Chiropractic care works by manually adjusting misaligned joints in the body, primarily the spine, to reduce pressure on nerves and improve alignment. This is done through a series of manipulations, mobilizations and adjustments, which may include stretching, massage, and other manual techniques. The goal is to restore proper alignment and improve mobility, which can reduce pain and improve overall health.

What Are Some Chiropractic Techniques?

Chiropractors use a variety of techniques to achieve these goals, including spinal manipulation, manual therapy, and soft tissue therapy. Spinal manipulation is the primary technique used by chiropractors and involves applying pressure with their hands or special instruments to the spine or surrounding joints to improve range of motion and flexibility. Manual therapy may include massage, stretching, and other hands-on techniques to improve strength and flexibility. Soft tissue therapy uses various techniques to reduce muscle tension and improve range of motion.

Overall, chiropractic care aims to improve the function of your musculoskeletal system, reduce pain, and improve your overall health. While the focus is on the spine and musculoskeletal system, chiropractic care takes a holistic approach, considering all aspects of physical health and wellness.

Differences Between Physical Therapy and Chiropractic Care

While both physical therapy and chiropractic care focus on musculoskeletal problems, the approach to treatment differs. Chiropractic care tends to take a more hands-on approach, focusing more on the manipulation of joints and vertebrae to alleviate pain by the chiropractor. Physical therapy, on the other hand, may make use of your own body to help stretch and strengthen specific muscle groups and use other equipment such as electric stimulation, hot packs, and lasers to improve blood flow and circulation to the damaged areas.

Scope of Practice

Physical therapists are trained to diagnose and treat movement disorders, working closely with other healthcare professionals to provide comprehensive care. They can also prescribe exercises and physical aids to speed up the recovery process. Chiropractors, on the other hand, primarily focus on spinal adjustments and musculoskeletal conditions related to the spine. They do not typically prescribe medication or perform surgery.


Chiropractors use manipulation techniques on specific areas of the body to relieve pain and improve movement within the joints. These techniques involve the manipulation of joints and vertebrae, which can provide immediate pain relief. Physical therapists, on the other hand, use mobilization techniques like stretching, exercise, massage, and other physical aids to improve strength and mobility over time.

Areas of Focus

Chiropractic care tends to focus on the spine. Physical therapists, on the other hand, work with soft tissues like muscles and joints, focusing on the entire body as well as specific areas of concern. Physical therapy is particularly useful for people who are recovering from surgery or have chronic conditions like arthritis.

Both can be helpful depending on the type of pain you have. If it concerns your spine and joints, then chiropractic care can be your knight in shining armor. But if it’s general pain that limits your mobility, physical therapy is the way to go. It also depends on the approach you are more comfortable with; while physical therapy involves the use of physical aids like devices, chiropractic care is more hands-on. Both are equally effective, and one should choose them based on preference.

Remember, the goal of both is to improve movement, decrease pain, and improve your quality of life. The important thing is to seek help from the right professional, as both professionals have a unique approach to treatment that can offer patients considerable relief from chronic and acute pain.

Muscle Strength

Physical therapists use exercises and techniques to gradually improve muscle strength and function, while chiropractors primarily focus on spinal adjustments to alleviate pain and improve nervous system function. In physical therapy, strengthening exercises are tailored to a patient’s specific needs and goals, whereas in chiropractic care, strengthening is seen as a byproduct of proper spinal alignment. Both approaches can be beneficial in improving muscle strength, but they differ in their primary methods and goals. So, if you are looking to specifically target and improve your muscle strength, physical therapy may be the better option for you. However, it’s always best to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the most appropriate treatment plan for your individual needs.


Balance and stability are crucial for overall health and well-being, and both physical therapy and chiropractic care can play a significant role in improving them. Physical therapists focus on exercises and techniques to improve balance and stability through strengthening core muscles, improving coordination and posture, and enhancing flexibility. On the other hand, chiropractors primarily address balance issues by addressing spinal misalignments that can affect the body’s nervous system. Both approaches can be beneficial, but they differ in their methods and goals.

Holistic Approach

While both physical therapy and chiropractic care aim to improve overall health, chiropractic care often takes a more holistic approach, considering the body as a whole. Chiropractors may focus on lifestyle factors, nutrition, and other non-musculoskeletal factors that may impact the overall health and functioning of the body.

It is important to note that while these differences exist, there can also be overlap in the techniques and treatments offered by physical therapists and chiropractors. The choice between physical therapy vs chiropractic care would ultimately depend on the individual’s specific condition, preferences, and the recommendations of their healthcare provider.

Ultimately, both physical therapy and chiropractic care have their advantages and disadvantages. It’s essential to choose the right treatment based on the nature of your problem, and it may require trying out both treatments to see what works best for you. It’s also essential to note that while these treatments offer immediate relief, multiple sessions are required to achieve lasting results.

Similarities Between Physical Therapy VS Chiropractic Care

As mentioned earlier, both physical therapy and chiropractic care have a holistic approach when it comes to identifying the cause of a problem. Both professionals look beyond the physical symptoms of an illness and take into account an individual’s overall lifestyle, as well as social and psychological factors. This means that rather than simply focusing on the physical symptoms, they focus on finding and addressing the root cause of the issue – be it psychological or physical.

When it comes to conditions treated, both physical therapy and chiropractic care are effective in treating musculoskeletal problems, improving movement in muscles and joints, with the end goal of decreasing pain and improving quality of life. Physical therapists work with soft tissue, muscles, and joints while chiropractors work with joints, vertebrae, and the spinal cord.

Both physical therapy and chiropractic care also focus on ensuring that the client avoids pain in the future, by addressing the cause of the issue. For instance, someone with back pain may have pain as a result of poor posture, or perhaps it’s due to psychological issues like stress or anxiety. Both professionals attempt to identify the root cause of the problem and put together a plan that will ensure the pain doesn’t return.

Identifying the right treatment for an individual depends on the nature of the problem they are facing. Physical therapy and chiropractic care have their unique ways of treating the underlying cause of musculoskeletal problems, which helps improve the quality of life in patients. When it comes to finding the best treatment suited for you, consult with a professional who can provide a comprehensive analysis of your condition and recommend treatment based on your needs and preferences.

What Can Be Some Side Effects of Physical Therapy and Chiropractic Care?

Just like any other form of treatment, physical therapy, and chiropractic care both have side effects that are usually physical in nature. Patients may experience slight pain, soreness in muscles, bruising, swelling, and inflammation after receiving treatment. It’s important to note that these symptoms typically subside within a few hours to 48 hours. Physical therapists perform various exercises that can exacerbate pain, whereas chiropractic treatments may result in muscle soreness. Although physical therapy and chiropractic care do not guarantee complete or quick recovery, patients who persevere despite possible side effects usually experience improvement over time. However, some patients may find the increase in pain and swelling discouraging and give up after a session.

Which Treatment is Better?

In the end, it’s not about which treatment is better. The answer to this question lies in the nature of your problem. So, let’s say you have a stiff back and feel restricted in your movement, which treatment should you go for? Chiropractic care usually focuses on relieving pain from an acute injury or chronic pain, while physical therapy is intended to help people regain strength and mobility after surgery or to address chronic conditions. The key is to understand which treatment aligns more with your specific needs. Don’t forget, both forms of treatment complement each other well, so it’s possible that a combination of both could be the solution to your problem. It’s important to explore all your options and to find a treatment that works best for you.

Both physical therapy and chiropractic care complement each other well. There are similarities and differences, but neither is better than the other. Identifying the right treatment for an individual depends on the nature of the problem they are facing. Physical therapy and chiropractic care have their unique ways of treating the underlying cause of musculoskeletal problems, which helps improve the quality of life in patients. When it comes to finding the best treatment suited for you, consult with a professional who can provide a comprehensive analysis of your condition and recommend treatment based on your needs and preferences.


Physical therapy and chiropractic care are both effective treatments for musculoskeletal problems. While chiropractic care focuses on nerve, vertebra, and spinal cord manipulation, physical therapy works with soft tissue and muscles. Both practices have a holistic approach and aim to address the underlying cause of the issue. Side effects of both treatments usually subside within a few hours to 48 hours. The better treatment depends on the nature of the problem. Ultimately, a Free discovery call will help determine which treatment works best for you.

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