Man with knee pain needs chiropractic or physical therapy care

Chiropractor VS Physical Therapist: What’s Best for Your Needs?

Though each form of therapy has its merits, it can sometimes be challenging to decide what is best in a given situation. From rehabilitation after an injury to muscle pain that just won’t go away to rejuvenating self-care, people choose each type of service for specific reasons.

Whether you were in a vehicle accident, sustained a sports-related injury, or have been dealing with pain or discomfort over the long-term, one of these therapies might be right for you. Here’s more on seeing a chiropractor vs physical therapist or massage therapist depending on what ails you.

Is Chiropractic and Physical Therapy the Same?

The short answer is no. These two treatment methods are not the same.

However, they do have features in common.

Both aim to help correct injuries or pain in your body and restore balance to your physical systems. The two treatments can also work together to achieve optimal results since they complement each other so well, and every care plan will utilize different therapeutic methods and processes.


A chiropractor can use both hands-on and mechanical methods of spinal manipulation. They focus on aligning the body but mostly concentrate on keeping the musculoskeletal system in alignment. These practitioners often zero in on spinal treatment, aiming to alleviate back or nerve pain that affects everyday life.

This type of care addresses a variety of conditions, including both acute and chronic issues. All ages can benefit from gentle chiropractic care, and each patient receives attention specific to his or her physical and other needs.

Adjustments are gentle and specific to each patient.

So, can chiropractors do physical therapy?

In general, a chiropractor can help patients to come up with exercise, nutrition, and musculoskeletal health plans, but rehabilitative therapy is the business of physical therapists.

Physical Therapists

Physical therapists often treat individuals with injuries who are working toward increased mobility, reduced pain, better body function, and more. Often, physical therapists work with clients who have sustained an injury or who are living with an acute or chronic condition.

In many cases, your regular physician, surgeon, or another specialist may refer you to physical therapy following an injury. While you may not recover one hundred percent of function following injury or surgery, rehabilitative care aims to help improve your abilities exponentially. This type of care is not painful, however, and involves slow and steady increases over time.

You might wonder, is physical therapy better than chiropractor care?

But whether you need a chiropractor vs physiotherapy depends on your physical condition and what type of care you require. Both practitioners carefully observe and diagnose their patients to create a safe and effective care plan, so everyone’s needs will vary.

Massage Therapy

Another type of therapy that’s relevant when discussing chiropractor vs physical therapy treatment is massage. Many people get massages to help them relax, relieve temporary pain, improve their mood, and even assist with digestion.

However, there is a difference between massage therapist and physical therapist treatment. While massage therapists must have a license to practice, their focus is often on muscles and tissues. Without addressing the underlying issue that is causing pain or stiffness, a massage may only temporarily relieve your pain symptoms.

A license in massage therapy requires a certificate program, associate degree level coursework, or a bachelor’s degree. Specific requirements vary by program, but students in this field learn both technical and mechanical aspects of the practice.

In addition to licensed massage therapists, other types of practitioners may also have specific massage knowledge and skills. This means you can receive multiple therapies in one office and often with the same care provider.

But in conjunction with physical therapy or chiropractic care (or both), massage can contribute to your overall recovery.

However, in many instances, insurance may not cover massage therapy unless it is a specific component of your post-injury recuperation.

Chiropractor vs Physical Therapist

The difference between a chiropractor and physical therapy comes down to your practitioner’s degree, experience, and area of specialty.

Chiropractic Treatment

To become a chiropractor, a student must take a four-year program that is only available at specific universities across the United States. Earning the Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.) degree involves education in anatomy, chemistry, chiropractic philosophy, diagnosis, rehabilitation, nutrition, public health, and more.

Chiropractic care addresses such conditions as:

Physical Therapy

A physical therapist has a degree in physical therapy through a specific educational program. Physical therapists may have a doctoral degree, spending years learning their trade. Treatments can involve everything from gentle exercises to targeted muscle challenges and rehabilitation, such as:

  • Spine training and therapy
  • Exercise therapies
  • Pilates and mat rehabilitation
  • Acute orthopedic rehab
  • Therapy for a variety of chronic conditions
  • Kinesio taping

In many cases, which professional you should see depends on what pain you feel and what other circumstances surround your experience.

Massage Therapy

Although on its own, massage therapy does not claim to improve overall health or rehabilitation, it can help patients to relax and “loosen up.” At the same time, some people who experience ongoing pain and discomfort might choose massage with the mistaken impression that it will heal their back or neck problems.

Unfortunately, massage alone won’t take care of conditions such as pinched nerves, migraines, or other issues stemming from improper alignment. Receiving massages after an accident or injury may help relieve pain temporarily, but this is another instance when other therapies would be of greater benefit.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with getting massages to help you relax, whether it’s in a spa setting or a clinical one. Keep in mind, though, that for long-term progress, receiving care for injury or illness should also be part of the plan.

Chiropractor vs Physical Therapy for Back Pain

Many people visit a chiropractor for regular adjustments to treat and prevent back pain.

Often, a lifetime of stress on your musculoskeletal system can cause pain to emerge gradually. Other times, a pinched nerve or sudden movement can interrupt your body’s normal function.

In these cases, regular adjustments can help.

First, you’ll have an exam, and your practitioner will create a treatment plan. It can take as little as one or two adjustments to begin feeling better but be sure to stick with your course of treatment to keep making progress. Receiving chiropractic care over the long-term can help keep you in alignment and even avoid future pain, stiffness, and nerve issues.

If your back pain is the result of a vehicle accident, surgery, or another injury, you may require rehabilitative physical therapy. While you may also undergo chiropractic adjustments, physical therapy will focus on rebuilding strength, the range of motion, and regular movement in the affected areas.

For patients who are seeing their regular physician or a specialist post-surgery, physical therapy is often part of the treatment plan. Depending on the severity of your injury or the status of your surgical procedure, your doctor may prescribe anywhere from a couple of weeks to a few months of rehabilitative services.

Together, the two therapies can facilitate a more comfortable and more robust recovery. Whether to have physical therapy or a chiropractor for back pain depends on your discomfort level, the presence of an injury, and other factors.

Chiropractor vs Physical Therapy for Neck Pain

Similar to back pain, neck pain can either creep up on you or present suddenly after an injury or car accident. For recurring pain, chiropractic care may “reset” your body into alignment, giving fewer opportunities for anything to move out of place and cause discomfort.

Even in cases of sudden injuries, such as whiplash in a vehicle accident, chiropractic care may help. Over the course of a few weeks or months, your muscles and spine move back into alignment, and lasting effects from the accident may disappear.

For injury or strain, physical therapy is a safe way to rebuild strength and movement without overexerting your body. Especially if your neck pain is due to a previous injury or surgery, physical therapy is often the first step toward better health.

Though chiropractic concentrates on your spine and other bone structures, physical therapy has a more specific focus on the injured area and its recovery.

Chiropractor vs Physical Therapist vs Massage Therapist: How to Choose

The best way to determine what services are best for you is to schedule a consultation with a professional. But in many cases, you may have already seen a physician or even an emergency room doctor who issued a referral to a clinic or therapist.

Either way, getting in for a full workup is the most accurate way to see where your problem areas are and how chiropractic, physical therapy, or even massage therapy can best help you to recover.

If you have any further questions, the doctors at Beach Pain Center are here to help.  Our team provides chiropractic, physical therapy, and pain management care to the Dallas-Fort Worth community.

Fill out our contact form or give us a call at (817) 831-3388 for help today.

Leave a Comment