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Chiropractor Vs Physical Therapist

Updated: May 8

By: Andrew Kakishita, Chiropractic Intern

It's never fun to get injured and even less fun trying to figure out the difference between all the health practitioners and treatment options out there. For example; following a sports injury, you may be unsure whether you should visit a chiropractor or a physical therapist. After all, they can both treat the same conditions, so which should you choose? Let's take a look!

Hands on back performing a chiropractic adjustment

Care Spectrum

To understand the benefits that chiropractors and physical therapists offer, it's important to first understand the care spectrum which ranges from passive care on one end to active care on the other. Passive care consists of treatments done to you, whereas active care involves you as the patient performing the treatment by moving your body. Think of it this way, if you are told that you must do two sets of fifteen jumping jacks each day, you're participating in an active treatment. On the other hand, something like receiving a massage where a massage therapist works your muscles for you is considered a passive treatment. Some practitioners choose to stay on one side of the spectrum throughout the duration of their treatment. Others fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum by modifying the treatment based on the patient's condition and using a mix of active and passive therapies. So where do chiropractors and physical therapists fall?

What to Expect from a Chiropractor

Chiropractors primarily utilize passive therapies such as spinal adjustments and soft tissue manipulation and incorporate some active therapies when needed. For example, spinal adjustments are passive therapies where the chiropractor applies force into a joint, often producing a popping sound. When done correctly, adjustments are completely safe and result in increased joint mobility, relaxation of muscles around the adjusted joints, improved neurological input of the area, increased blood flow, and improved joint mobility. Chiropractic adjustments, though a passive treatment, oftentimes increase the effectiveness of active treatments due to the improved joint motion and mobility. Soft tissue manipulation, another passive therapy, consists of treatments such as Graston or "scraping", cupping, and ART.

During your first visit at Washington Park Chiropractic, we'll discuss your chief complaint, perform an examination in which we dive deeper into your symptoms while also ruling out red flags, and then provide passive treatment - usually spinal and extremity adjustments with soft tissue manipulation. If necessary, we may prescribe you some active therapies such as exercises and stretches to strengthen weak muscles and relieve muscle tension.

What to Expect from a Physical Therapist

Physical therapists primarily utilize active therapies with some passive therapies when needed. A first visit with a physical therapist is very similar with a first visit with a chiropractor. The physical therapist will discuss your chief complaint, perform an examination to dive deeper into your symptoms while also ruling out red flags, and then provide active treatment such as strengthening weak muscles, correcting impaired movement, and stretching. If necessary, physical therapists may perform passive treatments such as joint manipulation (depending on state regulations), ice and heat, massage, and soft tissue manipulation.

Which One is Better?

Both chiropractors and physical therapists have the same goal - to relieve pain while helping people move better - though their initial approach to care may vary. Ultimately, both chiropractors and physical therapists typically stand somewhere in the middle of the care spectrum by utilizing both active and passive treatments. With each profession having a distinct approach to care, many patients tend to improve at a quicker rate when receiving care from both chiropractors and physical therapists simultaneously. We at Washington Park Chiropractic pride ourselves on working with a network of skilled physical therapists in the Denver area. During your next visit, ask us what physical therapists we recommend for you!

Andrew Kakishita is a chiropractic student from Palmer College of Chiropractic - Davenport. He is completing his graduate education by interning at Washington Park Chiropractic and learning as much as possible from the pros.


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