A question I often get is, should I see a physical therapist or a chiropractor for my low back pain? What is the difference between a physical therapist and a chiropractor?
Over the weekend you were doing some work around the house and you ‘tweaked’ something in your low back and woke up the next day with pain and stiffness. You decide to wait a day or two to see if it will resolve on its own. If it doesn’t resolve, what’s your next move? Some people will only go to a chiropractor and some only to a physical therapist. What’s the difference? Which one should you go to?
The traditional view of physical therapy versus chiropractic care positioned the two professions very differently in how they practiced.
Historically, chiropractors were called ‘bone setters’ and their strengths were to primarily perform manipulations to the spine and other joints to provide pain relief and improve mobility. The chiropractor’s weakness was found in not providing stability, strengthening, and motor re-education exercises after pain relief and mobility were achieved.
Historically, physical therapists were called ‘reconstructive aids’ and their strengths were to primarily help the patients perform rehabilitation exercises to get stronger. Physical therapists were only viewed as healthcare workers you saw after undergoing surgery or while sick in the hospital. A physical therapist’s weakness was found in not having the hands-on manual therapy skill set to mobilize and manipulate the spine and other joints of the body.
The reality is both historical approaches of physical therapists and chiropractors resulted in subpar care for patients.
Fast forward to today, both professions have made significant advances in what we now know as high-quality patient care and are more alike now than ever before.
Chiropractors are now becoming more proficient in soft tissue intervention for the muscles and tissues supporting the spine and joints. Some chiropractors are implementing muscle stabilization and strengthening strategies into a patient’s plan of care after improving motion through manipulation.
Physical therapists are now becoming more proficient in their hands-on manual therapy skills. These include mobilizations and manipulations to the spine and joints throughout the body to decrease pain and improve mobility as well as advances in soft tissue release techniques, stretching, and range of motion strategies.
So, how are you supposed to decide? Am I saying physical therapists versus chiropractors are now equal? No. MY ANSWER is, find either a Doctor of Physical Therapy or a Chiropractor who is great at doing BOTH the mobilization/manipulation/soft tissue release component to decrease pain and improve mobility, when appropriate, AND one who incorporates the stability/strengthening/motor re-education component that should immediately follow. When looking at physical therapists and chiropractors, few do both well, if at all.
In my opinion, to perform both aspects of care well, it takes time. If you go to a chiropractor and they do a quick adjustment sending you out the door in 10 minutes, I think you’ve been given a disservice as they did not address the stability/strengthening/motor re-education component following the adjustment. You will then be more likely to have to go back for a similar adjustment time and time again. If you go to a physical therapist and all they do is tell you to get on a bike, do some leg lifts, and use a hot pack for a few weeks to get you back to ‘good enough’, this also falls short of the high-quality care that is available to you.
The “PT” at the end of RobertsPT stands for physical therapy. As a Doctor of Physical Therapy, I have strived to become equipped with both components of care. My strengths are in my manual therapy, hands-on skill set, as well as my ability to prescribe the appropriate stability/strengthening/motor re-education exercises. This comes from years of experience and extensive continuing education beyond my physical therapy degree. Quality patient care takes time, and not all health practitioners prioritize the time you deserve. To talk to a physical therapist who does, call me today at 214-998-9904.