Home / Blog / The Difference Between A Chiropractor And A Physical Therapist

The Difference Between A Chiropractor And A Physical Therapist

When making a decision to seek pain relief, the first focus should be on what type of medical professional you are going to see. To do so, it is important to understand the difference between a chiropractor and a physical therapist. The three main differences between chiropractors and physical therapists are:

  1. Treatment Philosophy
  2. Education
  3. Clinical Expertise

Treatment Philosophy


Chiropractic care focuses on conditions of the musculoskeletal system and nervous system and the effects caused by these conditions.  It helps to relieve include back pain, neck pain, headaches, and other pain in joints, arms, and legs. Chiropractors use a hands-on approach that includes examination, diagnosis, and treatment.

Chiropractors use their extensive diagnostic skill set to recommend therapeutic and rehabilitative exercises and provide nutritional, dietary and lifestyle counseling.

To alleviate their patient’s pain, chiropractors often use a technique called Spinal Manipulation.  The purpose of Spinal Manipulation is to restore mobility in areas with tissue damage, which decreases pain and muscle tightness and allows for healing.

Physical Therapists

Physical therapists, on the other hand, evaluate, diagnose and provide treatment to restore movement and function such as strength, range of motion and balance. They use this knowledge to develop an individualized rehabilitation program from conditions caused by factors such as aging, injury, disease or environmental factors.

Physical therapists are also involved in promoting health, wellness, and fitness through risk factor identification and preventative care.


To become a chiropractor, an individual must earn a Doctorate in Chiropractic which can take 6-8 years. This includes 5,200 instructional hours and 3-4 years of undergraduate school. Following undergrad, an individual must then complete 2-4 years of chiropractic school, a one-year residency, and pass the National and State Board exams.

To become a physical therapist, a person must earn a Doctorate of Physical Therapy, which is usually a 7-year program. This time includes approximately 3500 instructional hours and 4 years of undergrad followed by 3 years of physical therapy school. Including the 7 –year program, Physical therapy students must also complete a 30-week internship, and pass the National Physical Therapy Exam.

Clinical Expertise


Chiropractors are experts when it comes to Spinal Adjustment and manipulation. They use their knowledge of the musculoskeletal system to develop therapeutic modalities and exercise regiments to treat pain in their patients.

Doctors of Chiropractic use evidence to support their treatment plans and adjustments of the spine, as well as diagnose joint subluxation complexes. Their education also provides them with in-depth understanding of physical therapy techniques, general medicine, radiology, and neurology.

Chiropractors are knowledgeable in specialized areas, including Orthopedics, Pediatrics, General Rehab, Internal Disorders, Neurology, Nutrition, Occupational Health, Radiology, Sports Medicine, and Forensic Sciences.

Physical Therapists

Physical Therapists are experts when it comes to human movement and the restoration of all movement related processes. Like Chiropractors, they also have a foundation of knowledge that extends into Chiropractic care and general medicine.

When it comes to treatment, a Physical Therapists area of expertise lies in manual therapy, joint and soft tissue mobilization, neurologic rehabilitation, sports performance, muscle coordination and cardiovascular rehabilitation.

Physical Therapists diagnose movement, musculoskeletal and functional related conditions. Specialized areas that Physical Therapists use in their diagnostic and treatment process are Orthopedics, Sports Medicine, Pediatrics, Geriatrics, Neurology, Cardiovascular, Pulmonary, and Clinical Electrophysiology.

If you are in pain from injury or deterioration, both Chiropractors and Physical Therapists can be beneficial to your recovery. They use slightly different techniques, but have the same goal of helping improve the quality of life for their patients. To set up a consultation with a chiropractor, contact us today!