Let’s imagine you have back pain, and you need some help. Who do you call? The good news is that you have options: primary care doctor, spine specialist, physical therapist, chiropractor or even alternative medicine (such as accupuncture).
So what is the difference between the treatment you get from a chiropractor and a physical therapist?
Chiropractors specialize in manipulating (popping) various joints and segments of the spine and pelvis. They usually take x-rays to determine the areas that are not properly aligned. Then they develop a treatment plan, which includes manipulations to many different joints of your back. Depending on the chiropractor, you may also get electric stimulation, heat, ice, and decompression (a form of traction). More rarely, you may get some exercises. Most health insurances cover chiropractic care, but you will likely have co-pays. And anything your insurance does not cover (certain procedures), you pay out of pocket. Many chiropractors recommend that you continue treatment for weeks-months and then come back periodically for spine adjustments.
Physical Therapists specialize in decreasing pain and restoring normal physical function through exercise, education, hands-on techniques (which may include tissue or joint mobilization and joint manipulations), posture/body mechanics training, functional activities, modalities (such as electric stimulation, heat, ice, decompression/traction, ultrasound), gait training (improving walking patterns), balance training, stretching and/or strengthening. All health insurance covers Physical Therapy, but you will likely have co-pays. To see a PT, you simply need a doctor’s prescription (if you want your health insurance to pay for it). PT’s aim to find out the cause of your pain/symptoms, to treat them and to teach you how to prevent them again in the future. The goal is to make you independent in managing your own symptoms so that you no longer need PT. Depending on your injury/surgery, you may need PT for 1-2 visits or up to several months.
American Physical Therapy Association (www.apta.org)
American Chiropractic Association (www.acatoday.org)