Physical therapy (also known as physiotherapy) and chiropractic care have some similarities.

Both disciplines treat and manage pain and stiffness in your body. Both are practiced by licensed professionals with years of education in the sciences.

But their approaches can be slightly different.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at these two disciplines, how they differ, what benefits they offer, and how to choose between the two if you have pain, joint stiffness, or difficulty moving.

Physical therapists and chiropractors have similar goals in mind for patients, but they may go about achieving these goals in different ways.

Some of the similarities they share include the following:

  • Both focus on managing pain and discomfort using noninvasive and nonsurgical techniques.
  • Both may use manual or hands-on therapy to treat a specific condition.
  • Both may treat, or co-treat, the same conditions.
  • Both may focus on wellness plans for their patients beyond what they can do during a session.
  • Both evaluate your symptoms by taking your health history, examining you, and even ordering certain tests.
  • Both physical therapists and chiropractors are licensed health professionals with years of education and training.
Physical therapy/ physiotherapyChiropractic care
Pain-free movement is one of the key primary goals. Pain relief and alignment of the spine are key primary goals.
Focuses on how the body moves and functions as a whole.Focuses mostly on issues related to back pain, neck pain, joint pain in the arms or legs, and headaches.
Physical therapists help you perform stretches and exercises, as well as performing some manipulations for certain conditions, to improve your mobility.Chiropractors perform manipulations and adjustments to help your body heal itself.
Physical therapists work in just about any healthcare environment, as well as your home. Chiropractors usually need specialized spaces and equipment to perform adjustments and manipulations.

A physiotherapist/physical therapist, also known as a PT, focuses on improving your ability to move and function without pain which, in turn, helps boost your quality of life.

The goal of PT is for you to achieve the highest level of movement possible to function in daily life.

PTs evaluate you, guide you in stretches and exercises, and educate you on ways to stay active and healthy.

Physical therapy treatment may include:

  • an evaluation of your pain, flexibility, and movement
  • exercises, stretches, or hands-on manipulation to help you get stronger and move better
  • posture education with instruction on how to move to avoid injury or pain
  • heat or cold therapy and a variety of other modalities to reduce pain
  • a wellness plan to improve your overall health
  • performing wound care
  • treating patients in emergency departments and ICU

You may find that you only need a few sessions with a PT before you notice an improvement in your condition.

Or, you may need long-term PT to get relief. Your PT will evaluate your progress and put together a treatment plan for you.

PTs must earn a doctorate in physical therapy (DPT) before becoming licensed.

Why use physical therapy?

PT may be a helpful treatment option if you:

PTs practice in a variety of settings, including:

  • hospitals
  • outpatient clinics or offices
  • athletic facilities
  • rehabilitation centers
  • schools
  • workplaces
  • homes

Are there different types of PT?

Physical therapists may specialize in one demographic, such as children or older adults.

They may also focus on one type of condition, such as sports injuries or a specific health condition like:

Chiropractors are licensed professionals with doctorate degrees who use a hands-on approach to ease pain and inflammation by manipulating parts of your body.

The philosophy behind chiropractic care is that your body can heal itself with interventions performed by a chiropractor.

Chiropractic care, like physical therapy, doesn’t involve taking medications or undergoing surgery. You may want to try chiropractic care before undergoing more invasive treatments.

Chiropractic care covers many health conditions for people of all ages. It focuses specifically on the musculoskeletal and nervous systems.

A chiropractor may:

  • evaluate symptoms based on a physical exam and tests
  • provide adjustments to areas of the body or use techniques like spinal manipulation to help decrease pain and inflammation
  • discuss other forms of treatment
  • recommend doing certain exercises at home or making lifestyle adjustments to reduce pain and inflammation

Why use chiropractic care?

Chiropractic care may be a helpful treatment option if you have:

An osteopath is a doctor of osteopathic medicine, also known as a DO. They are licensed physicians who graduate from an osteopathic medical school instead of a traditional medical school.

Like a doctor of medicine (MD), a DO must first earn a bachelor’s degree. This is followed by four years of medical school and a residency that could last 1 to 7 years depending on the area of practice.

Both chiropractors and DOs receive specialized training that focuses on the relationship between the musculoskeletal system and overall health.

Unlike DOs, chiropractors aren’t licensed physicians. They typically don’t have to complete residencies in approved facilities.

So, what’s the best way to determine which type of therapy is right for you? That really depends on the type of condition you have and your specific needs.

Sometimes, depending on your condition, you may even want to use both PT and chiropractic care to help relieve pain and improve your quality of life.

It’s important to talk to your doctor when trying to decide on the type of therapy you need. Your doctor can advise you and help explain how a particular therapy may help improve your symptoms.

Both physical therapy, also known as physiotherapy, and chiropractic care focus on managing pain and other symptoms using noninvasive techniques. Both disciplines use hands-on therapy to treat specific conditions.

Physical therapy focuses on how the body moves and functions as a whole.

A physical therapist will work with you on exercises and stretches to help you move more easily with less pain. They may also use hands-on manipulation for some conditions.

Chiropractic care primarily focuses on disorders of the musculoskeletal and nervous systems. Chiropractors use manipulations and adjustments to help your body heal itself.

If you have pain — or find it hard to move around easily — talk to your doctor about whether PT or chiropractic care may be helpful.