What is a Physical Therapist?


And, how are they different from a Chiropractor?

Active Release Technique at Ironman

Both Physical Therapists and Chiropractors work within the health care system to help people recover from injury, reduce pain and maintain a healthy, active lifestyle.  But Physical Therapists and Chiropractors are not the same.  So, what are the differences and how do you know where to go to get help?

First, keep in mind that within both professions of Physical Therapy and Chiropractic there is quite a variance of technical skills, interests and specialties.  Not all Physical Therapists are alike and neither are all Chiropractors.

Some Physical Therapists work solely on helping people recover from surgery or after a stroke.  Others are focused on helping sports injuries or improving sports performance.  All of these “special interests” or areas of expertise are well within the scope of practice of Physical Therapists.

Some Chiropractors limit their focus on improving the function of the spine alone while others look at the entire body.  There are Chiropractors who include soft tissue work .

(treatment of muscle, ligament, fascia and nerves) while others only adjust or manipulate the joints of the body.

Any time you are looking for a Physical Therapist or a Chiropractor you must ask: “What special skills, interests or specialties am I looking for?”  Is that particular Physical Therapist or Chiropractor right for your needs?

But, how do Physical Therapy and Chiropractic differ?

In general, Physical Therapists do not diagnose medical problems but may be highly skilled at treating them.  A Chiropractor is able to diagnose and recommend treatment for most musculoskeletal injuries, including sports injuries, auto accident injuries or chronic pain.

Physical Therapists often work  in hospitals, orthopedic physician’s offices, rehabilitation facilities or their own independent facilities. While there are some Chiropractors who work in hospitals, and rehabilitation facilities, most do not, and work independently from these facilities.

All Chiropractors are doctors, or physicians. This means that you generally don’t need any referral to see a Chiropractor.  Chiropractic and Physical Therapy are both covered by most insurance companies and Medicare but you’ll often need a Physician’s referral to see a Physical Therapist.  Also, Chiropractors can refer for special tests like MRI, or CT scans but Physical Therapists can not.

If you are considering Chiropractic or Physical Therapy you should remember that either one may be a good choice, however consider the individual practitioner more than the title.  Recently, new techniques and research have made treatment of many injuries and many types of chronic pain easier to treat.  This is due to a focus on correction of movement rather than just an attempt to temporarily relieve pain.  Many Physical Therapists and Chiropractors alike have been trained in special techniques and systems of diagnosis like: Selective Functional Movement Assessment , a complex system of movement tests that can pinpoint the exact cause of the pain.  And, like Active Release Techniques, a method of treatment that focuses on improving the way muscles, nerves and fascia work.

Also, look for special certifications that may help you reach your goals.  Some Physical Therapists and Chiropractors are certified by Titleist Performance Institute to treat golf injuries and help you improve your game.  Others may have special experience with sports like running or swimming or cycling.  Finding someone who understands your goals and has experience with your type of problem may be the most important factor.

So, while there are many differences between a Physical Therapist and a Chiropractor there are important similarities.  When deciding who is right for you, worry less about their title and more about who they are as individuals.

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