Should I see a physical therapist? A chiropractor? What’s the difference?

Should I see a physical therapist?

Many current and former patients have asked us these questions. To help better answer these concerns, we hope this should provide some clarity. We will be covering similarities and differences between both practitioners. Some areas of practice will differ from state-to-state due to legal reasons.


Both physical therapists and chiropractors must complete hands-on training prior to receiving their licenses. For physical therapists, that period is a minimum 30 weeks of full-time field experience. Chiropractors require 1 year of full-time interning.’

Practice Areas

Physical therapists typically practice in more areas than chiropractors. For example, a physical therapist could own a private practice, but they may also work in hospitals, acute and sub-acute rehabilitation centers, outpatient offices, patient homes, schools, and in military settings.

Chiropractors, on the other hand, typically operate out of their own private practices. Though some may also work in hospitals, you will find most chiropractic treatment in a private office setting.

Education Level

Both a physical therapist and chiropractor are required to complete intensive post-graduate education programs to receive proper credentials to practice. For physical therapists, they must earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) and chiropractors must receive their Doctor of Chiropractic (DC). Total time required for both physical therapists and chiropractors to complete their education is 7 years. This includes internship hours.

Should I See a Physical Therapist or Chiropractor for Prescription Medication?

In almost all cases, these professionals cannot provide any prescriptions for medication of any kind. Physical therapists are only able to prescribe medication to active military personnel in a military setting. They are not legally permitted to prescribe to civilians or ex-military. Chiropractors cannot prescribe medication under any circumstances.

Should I See a Physical Therapist or Chiropractor for Surgical Procedures?

Both physical therapists and chiropractors cannot perform surgery. However, they are both legally permitted to perform some limited, quasi-surgical techniques when caring for patients. Physical therapists are limited to the debridement of tissues during wound care while chiropractors can perform Manipulations Under Anesthesia (MUA).

Ordering Imaging

This is one area where physical therapists and chiropractors differ greatly. Physical therapists cannot order imaging, such as x-rays, MRIs, or ultrasound. However, they can make referrals if needed. Chiropractors are able to order imaging when caring for their patients.

Provided Exercises

Both physical therapists and chiropractors recognize the importance of exercise in care plans. However, there is one chief difference between both professionals. Physical therapists incorporate exercise as an integral, central component of the rehabilitation process. Chiropractors, on the other hand, may incorporate some exercise into their care plans, but that does not always apply to each of their patients’ specific conditions.

Learn More About What Physical Therapists and Chiropractors Offer

While both physical therapists and chiropractors perform manual techniques, may provide electric stimulation, and may incorporate therapeutic exercises, there are differences between both professions. If you have any questions on who to see, it is important to research and ask questions. To learn more about what physical therapy can do for you, contact us.

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