Chiropractors and physical therapists (or physiotherapists) are professionals who help in the treatment of different injuries or trauma to the body.

A chiropractor is a professional who is engaged in the diagnosis and treatment of mechanical disorders of the musculoskeletal system, whereas a physical therapist (also called physiotherapist) is a medical professional who provides treatment in case of injury, disease or caused due to aging, to assist and restore mobility and function.

Comparison chart

Chiropractor versus Physical Therapist comparison chart
Edit this comparison chartChiropractorPhysical Therapist
Residency and Internship One-year internship that coincides with clinical courses while in training. NO Residency required, but have the option to complete if accepted and desire to. All curriculums are required to have a minimum of 30 weeks of full time internship. Residencies exist in all specialties, certified by the American Board of Physical Therapy Residency and Fellowship Education.
Practice Private practice clinics, generally. However, some are employed by health systems and hospitals. Generalist practice, neurology related, orthopedic related, and general alignment restoration dealing with the skeletal system. Acute care, Inpatient/Outpatient Neurologic Rehab, General Outpatient, Othopedic, Geriatrics, Pediatrics, Veterans Affairs, Military, Sports Medicine, Women's & Men's Health, Wound Care, Work Rehab, Electrophysiology, etc.
Can prescribe medication No. New Mexico recently allowed limited prescription rights to DCs Unless in the Military, PT's do not prescribe medications. However, all PT's are tested on pharmacology.
Medical Licensing Exam (MLE) National Board Exam (NBCE). Parts I, II, III IV (practical) and state boards. The National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) administered by the Federation of State Boards.
Treatment Techniques Chiropractic adjustment (grade I-V) ranging from soft tissue mobilization to joint adjustment. Electrical Stimulation. Acupuncture, Pain Management All manual therapy techniques including joint manipilation, and all modalities; Neurologic rehabilitation, sports performance, gait training, muscle coordination & performance, wound care, tissue mobilization, massage, cardiovascular rehab, etc.
Years of medical school 4-5 undergraduate years (Bachelor's required / state dependent), 5 Chiropractic school, 1 year residency, minimum 10 years Doctor of Physical Therapy = 3 academic years. All accredited Physical Therapy programs require a Bachelor's Degree. As of January 2012, only 5 Master's programs remain, which are typically 2 years in length. There are 213 programs in the US.
Status DC stands for Doctor of Chiropractic. They are not medical doctors, however for insurance purposes, some states consider chiropractors health care providers, some do not. A PT (Physical Therapist) is also not a medical doctor and cannot prescribe medication. PTs are also considered specialty practitioners by the insurance industry.
Surgery Minor surgery in some states. DCs are non-pharmacologic and non-surgical clinicians who are experts at conservative treatments within their scope of practice. However, do perform MUA in surgical setting. Wound Care. PT is limited to necrotic tissue, does not perform surgery. PTs are movement scientists and non-pharmacologic/non-surgical experts who use conservative treatments.
Specialization Orthopedics, Pediatrics, General Rehab, Internal Disorders, Radiology, Neurology, Nutrition, Occupational Health, Sports Med, Forensic Sciences. Orthopedics (Generalist Practice), Sports Medicine (Generalist & Sports related), Pediatrics, Geriatrics, Women's Health, Neurology(SCI, TBI, MS, ALS, CP, Parkinson's, etc), Cardiovasculay & Pulmonary (COPD, CHF, etc), Clinical Electrophysiology.
For more information Chiropractors are organized by the American Chiropractic Association (ACA). All information above was taken from this website. Physical Therapists are organized by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). All information above was taken from this website and various program websites, such as the Mayo Clinic's.
Board Certification National exam, Chiropractic Board at the State level and Diplomate specialty boards. Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT) for all US states. Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE), division of the US Department of Education, accredits the academic programs.
General Expertise DCs have evidence to support their expertise in the adjustment of the spine. Their knowledge extends into the scope of Physical Therapy and general Medicine as well as radiology and neurology. PT's have evidence to support their expertise in human movement and restoration of all movement related dysfunctions. Their knowledge extends into the scope of Chiropractic and general Medicine.
Diagnosis DCs diagnose joint subluxation complexes, and most medical conditions, depending on state law. Treatment of many acute non spinal or traumatic conditions may require referral of the patient to the correct specialty practitioner. PT's diagnose movement, musculoskeletal, and functional related conditions within their scope of practive. Like DC's, they do not diagnose medical conditions, but have the education and training to recognize and refer to the correct practitioner.
Differences between formal education 5,200 instructional hours. 4 years of undergraduate required for admission into DC school. Programs may vary. Not required to have a Bachelor's degree prior to admission. Total time = 6-8 years post graduate depending on undergraduate course work. > 3,200 instructional hours. The Mayo Clinic's DPT program has about 5,000 instructional hours, thus programs do vary. All PT's have a Bachelor's degree prior to obtaining their clinical doctorate. Total time in school = 7 years with undergrad.
Classification Chiropractor Physical Therapist
Use and application of Chiropractic Manipulation & Physical Therapy. DCs are the only practitioners with the expertise in Chiropractic Adjustments. Some states have laws preventing any other practitioner from performing these interventions. Chiropractors perform therapeutic modalities in most states. PT's are the only practitioner with the expertise to provide physical therapy. PTs may practice manipulation in most states, provided they have the appropriate training.
Average Undergraduate GPA 2.90 3.3

Differences in Medical Education and Training

The academic degree for chiropractors is called Doctor of Chiropractic or (DC). The World Health Organization (WHO) also lists other potential paths for pursuing this fulltime: B.Sc (Chiro) a 5 year integrated bachelor program and a 2-3 Masters program (M.Sc. Chiro) following a bachelor’s degree. Candidates can apply to a DC program after completing a four-year undergraduate degree. DC Program is a four-year full time program. Post-graduate residency is available in specialized spheres of chiropractor like orthopaedics, radiology and neurology. In the United States, training in physical therapy leads to the DPT (doctor of physical therapy) degree, which is a four-year program. Other programs also offer a Masters (MSPT, MPT). Education in this field includes clinical internships. Candidates also have to clear the National Physical Therapy Examination before they can practise. Physical therapy has many specialities in common areas such as Cardiopulmonary, Pediatrics, Neurologic, Orthopaedic, Geriatric, Integumentary, and Sports Physical Therapy and Clinical Electrophysiology. Other countries have different requirements for this profession.

Differences in Treatment techniques and Specialization

There are at least 20 types of techniques used by chiropractors. These include Manipulation of the spine and other joints, Extremity adjusting and Activator techniques like, Cox-Flexion Distraction (which targets compressed spine and relieves back pain), Thompson technique (method of adjustment in which the length of legs in analyzed to determine the type of misalignment and uses a “drop table”), Gonstead (looks at misalignment of spine causing pinched nerve), Sacro-Occipital technique (addresses the dysfunction of the base of the spine), which aims to correct vertebral and pelvic misalignments. Other modes for relieving pain are exercises, nutritional and dietary recommendations, cryotherapy (with ice packs) stress-relieving and relaxation techniques and disease prevention advice.

Physical therapists help people who have been in accidents, patients with low back pain, arthritis, heart disease, fractures, injuries and those with physical disabilities. Physical therapy is often clubbed with other medical practices in order to restore mobility and rehabilitation of the patient. Techniques include massage and stretching, hydrotherapy or aquatic therapy (in water), joint mobilization (passive procedure which loosens up restricted joints), muscle energy techniques (active procedure involving voluntary contraction of patient’s muscles, against a controlled counterforce), aggressive high velocity low amplitude thrusting, back strengthening exercises and a combination of these techniques.

Board certification for chiropractors vs physical therapists

Chiropractic schools are accredited through the Council for Chiropractic Education (CCE). This program is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). The American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties lists seven certifications different areas of physical therapy.


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