Comparison of Physical Therapy & Chiropractic Treatment

Many people ask, "What is the difference between chiropractors and physical therapists?" This is a good question; it appears the two professions are similar. This article will give a brief comparison based on personal interviews and information gathered from university descriptions and internet sources. Our purpose is to educate our readers of the differences between these two healing professions.

This article provides a general overview of the two professions. There is a wide spectrum of different clinicians with different treatment styles and some who have taken advanced courses to learn higher level skills. We are attempting to make a simple comparison of the beliefs, treatment styles and approaches of chiropractors and physical therapists.

Physical Therapists:

  • The basis of physical therapy is to work on musculoskeletal and neuromuscular systems to improve movement dysfunctions, posture, muscle imbalances and joint malalignments.
  • Physical therapy goals focus on decreasing pain and improving daily functional performance with an emphasis on a progressive, independent home strengthening program.
  • The treatment programs are usually established for return visits over a period of time (1-2 months) depending on the patient's condition. The treatment time is usually 45-60 minutes per visit.
  • Physical therapy encompasses a broad range of patient populations ranging from sports injuries to post-stroke rehabilitation.
  • Treatment is specific to any part of the body, working with all the different soft tissue neurological and joint structures involved.
  • Physical therapists may incorporate varying degrees of mobilization to specific joints, including to the spine, as part of their treatment plan. Physical therapists also emphasize soft-tissue techniques and therapeutic exercise as important components of the treatment.
  • The general relationship is: the therapist educates and empowers the patient to prevent reoccurrence of pain.


  • The basis of chiropractics is a strong relationship between the nervous system and good health with the focus of treatment on the skeletal and neurological systems. The theory is that spinal "adjustments" facilitate the free flow of nerve energy, which, in turn, relieves many ailments.
  • Chiropractic goals are to decrease pain and then have the patient return for follow up visits for maintenance.
  • The treatment programs are usually established for return visits over a period of time (3 to 6 months to a year) depending on the patientÕs condition. The treatment time is usually 10-30 minutes per visit.
  • Although chiropractors will usually treat any part of the body, there is almost always a spinal adjustment involved in the treatment. The adjustments are generally the same for any type of spinal mal-alignments.
  • Chiropractic approach is primarily centered in the use of adjustments to correct spinal mal-alignments.
  • In general, the chiropractor will usually instruct the patient to return for subsequent spinal adjustments as needed for pain relief.

The above information highlights key differences between the chiropractic and physical therapy fields. Such differences are noted within the underlying basis and goals of treatment as well as the overall treatment approach and general relationship between the patient and treating clinician. It is our hope that this information will give our readers a better understanding of these two professions.