By Traci Payne

For anyone trying to understand a medical record or condition — including patients — it helps to take a look at definitions and how they’re applied:

  • The American Chiropractic Association defines chiropractic this way: “Chiropractic is a health care profession that focuses on disorders of the musculoskeletal system and the nervous system, and the effects of these disorders on general health. Chiropractic care is used most often to treat neuro-musculoskeletal complaints.”

    Chiropractic therapies mainly consist of pain management through adjustment manual manipulation ranging from soft tissue mobilization to joint adjustment, electrical stimulation and acupuncture.

  • The American Physical Therapy Association defines physical therapy as: “Physical therapists are health care professionals who maintain, restore, and improve movement, activity, and health enabling individuals of all ages to have optimal functioning and quality of life, while ensuring patient safety and applying evidence to provide efficient and effective care.”

    Physical therapies have a much broader base within their systems — not just for pain relief but for rehabilitation focused with restoration of function and prevention of disabilities following disease, injury, or loss of a body part. These practitioners use several techniques to achieve this goal, including exercise, strengthening muscles, encouraging improved range of motion and retraining individuals to perform activities of daily living.

While both professions promote healing, it’s important to remember the differences.  The Chiropractor focuses on manipulation on the musculoskeletal and spinal system, and the Physical Therapist focuses on maintaining, restoring and improving movement of musculoskeletal and neuromuscular systems through strengthening programs.

Another significant difference relates to access.  Chiropractors are accessible to the general public, whereas a medical referral is required for physical therapy, including possible limits ordered by the physician to the amount of care rendered.

There’s good news for patients in this arena.  Some states now  allow direct access of patients to doctors of physical therapy (DPT’s), thereby improving patient access.

A Final Thought

Most confusion about chiropractic and physical therapy is a result of how these two very different professions overlap in their treatment of the spine.  While a Chiropractor remains the King of Spinal Manipulation, the Physical Therapist is the King of Physical Rehabilitation through exercise, activity modification and muscle strengthening.

Traci Payne is Account Coordinator/Operations Liaison with MKC Medical Management.  Contact her at