Experiencing muscle, joint, or back pain? You’re not alone. These are some of the most common medical complaints in the world.

According to the Bone and Joint Initiative, three out of four injury-related doctor’s visits are related to the muscular or skeletal systems. 

Back pain is even more common. It’s the third most popular reason for medical office visits and the most common cause of disability worldwide.

These patients come to the doctor seeking relief, which can seem a world away when hurting. 

Chiropractors and physical therapists are there to help. The first step is to understand what each professional does so that you can choose the one best suited to your needs.

What Is a Chiropractor?

Chiropractors are licensed medical professionals who treat a variety of medical conditions. People typically see chiropractors for back, neck, and joint pain. It’s also common to see a chiropractor for chronic headaches, often related to skeletal misalignment.

A chiropractor uses their hands or specialized instruments to manipulate the joints, particularly those between the vertebrae. This is called spinal manipulation. The goal is to realign the spine so the person can move freely.

What Is a Physical Therapist?

Physical therapists use specialized equipment, exercises, and hands-on interventions to reduce pain and improve physical function. They work with people of all ages, life stages, and functional capacities.

People often see physical therapists as part of their recovery from surgery or injury. Physical therapy can also help some people with joint or spine problems avoid surgery in the first place.

Physical therapists work in a variety of settings, including outpatient clinics, rehab facilities, and hospitals. Treatment plans usually involve multiple visits and may include exercises you do at home.

Chiropractor vs. Physical Therapist: Which Do You Need?

Chiropractic care and physical therapy reduce pain and improve function, and some patients will respond equally well to both approaches. For example, research shows that chiropractic care and physical therapy are similarly effective for lower back pain.

Other situations call for one approach or the other. Chiropractic care usually focuses on sudden-onset spinal, shoulder, or hip issues that affect your range of motion. 

The chiropractor will adjust anything that’s out of alignment and hopefully help you start moving better. They may also recommend heat, ice, and exercises as needed to improve your results.

Physical therapy is more appropriate if you have a sports injury or recovering from a medical event.  Your physical therapist will focus on helping you recover functional mobility — the movements you need to do to stay independent. 

Compared to chiropractic care, physical therapy is more of a whole-body approach. It’s also a longer-term process involving multiple visits and home exercises. If you have an ongoing health condition, this is the approach to try first.

The Bottom Line: Choosing Your Provider

Part of a chiropractor’s or physical therapist’s job is to talk about the kind of care you need. At Spring Creek Medical, professionals in both specialties are available to consult with potential patients. Learn more today and take your first step toward feeling better.