What’s the Difference Between Physical Therapy & Chiropractic Care?
If you’ve never been to a chiropractor before, you may find yourself drawing comparisons between physical therapy and chiropractic care. While both are focused on treating the physical body, there are significant differences between the two wellness modalities that are important to understand. By recognizing the effects and purposes of each of these therapeutic interventions, you will be better equipped to determine which one (if not both) would best suit your needs.
Here are four differences between physical therapy and chiropractic care:
#1. Chiropractors are experts on the neuromusculoskeletal system.
Chiropractors’ area of expertise is on the relationship between three major body systems: the nervous system, the muscular system, and the skeletal system. Together, these three body systems make up the neuromusculoskeletal system, which is responsible for a whole host of functions within the human body.
The nervous system in particular is an area of focus for chiropractors, who work to decrease inflammation, compression, and inhibited nerve function through their various treatments. When it’s functioning properly, the nervous system is responsible for carrying sensory feedback from the external environment via the peripheral nervous system to the central nervous system, which comprises the spine and brain. As messages are received and sent through the nervous system, messages are also given to the body to regulate various processes. Directly or indirectly, the nervous system is responsible for almost all resting processes that require no conscious effort: i.e., blinking, respiration, cardiovascular function, immune function, hormone release, etc.
When the nervous system is disrupted—which it can be through a variety of mechanisms which create imbalance or interruption to the muscular or skeletal systems—the tasks for which it is responsible can be jeopardized. Additionally, a disrupted nervous system can cause pain throughout the body, both locally and globally. In conjunction with providing messages about the environment to the brain and dispersing directives from the central nervous system throughout the body, the nervous system is also responsible for sensing imbalances and creating pain signals when something is amiss.
When there is a physical imbalance within the body, nerves transmit pain signals from the area to the central nervous system. With regard to the neuromusculoskeletal system, pain signals in nerves often mean that there is a joint or bone misalignment or a muscular imbalance. Expert chiropractors for pain can distinguish where this imbalance originates using manual manipulation, advanced digital imaging, and x-ray technology. Once the area is treated, the pain often diminishes or disappears completely. Nerve bundles which were compressed, constricted, or crushed by misalignment, inflammation and other imbalances are then returned to a state of wholeness and balance.
#2. Chiropractors realign bones and joints to create multi-system healing.
A large part of a chiropractor’s expertise and knowledge base is in realigning bones and joints within the body. As previously explored, the neuromusculoskeletal system is made up of the nervous system, the muscular system, and the skeletal system. Together, these three systems are responsible for many of the crucial bodily functions that allow human bodies to move through and interact with their environment comfortably. When any of these three systems are disturbed, the others are also compromised in their ability to function optimally.
Chiropractic care focuses on realigning bones and joints, which play an enormous role in muscular and nervous system function. When bones and joints become misaligned, or experience subluxation (when joints shift out of their ideal position in the global skeletal structure) this creates a host of imbalances throughout the body. Bones or joints experiencing subluxation create inflammation in the nearby area, constrict and crush local nerves, force the muscles of the body to attempt to compensate for the imbalance, and impair nerve communication and nerve energy transmission and flow.
To distinguish what areas of the skeletal system have been imbalanced by either accident, injury, posture, or genetic predisposition, an expert chiropractor may execute a visual analysis, employ manual manipulation, utilize digital imaging technology, and take x-rays. Each of these tools allow your chiropractic alignment expert to determine what bones and joints require attention, what the impact is on that area of the body (and on your lifestyle, pain levels, and overall comfort), and what the best mode of treatment is for your unique body.
#3. Chiropractors improve your baseline level of health.
While you may seek out a physical therapist for the purpose of rehabilitation after an injury or accident, chiropractors emphasize improving your baseline level of health. A chiropractor can absolutely help your body recover after some kind of injury, or a lifestyle that has induced pain and discomfort—but a chiropractor is equally well-equipped to assist you in raising your baseline of health by making adjustments and improvements to your global health and body structure.
For those who are interested in seeing how much they can improve their already-functional agility, mobility, and vitality, a chiropractor is an ideal wellness advocate. In addition to making significant changes and improvements to the overall structure and function of your body systems, an expert chiropractor can also aid in making minute tweaks and adjustments, the effects of which can be vastly influential on the body’s overall feeling of well-being and function. In attending to the neuromusculoskeletal system, including making just subtle changes, an expert chiropractor can improve athletic performance, overall vitality and clarity, cognition, and general comfort in the body.
#4. Chiropractors take a holistic, lifestyle-based approach.
Physical therapists are often enlisted to address local issues on the body—this may be rehabilitation for a specific body part or condition, restoring function after an accident or injury, or simply strengthening a part of the body that has been weakened due to lifestyle conditions, a genetic predisposition, or general wear and tear.
In contrast, chiropractors look at your health holistically, examining every facet of lifestyle to determine the ways in which your daily habits and routine may be affecting your symptoms or overall wellness. A chiropractor is equipped to provide lifestyle guidance, including exercises to aid and strengthen your body, take-home tools, and in-office treatments that may be supplemented with specific activities recommended for your unique body.
Which should I choose—physical therapist, or chiropractor?
Ultimately, physical therapists and chiropractors serve two very distinct purposes, with mildly overlapping services and outcomes. Ideally, you shouldn’t have to choose between either service—both physical therapists and chiropractors offer deeply therapeutic and healing-promoting care which are highly complementary to one another.
At Advanced Spine and Posture in Grand Rapids, MI, we proudly serve the entire Grand Rapids area and offer the most cutting edge chiropractic care and physical therapy to all of our visitors. We believe in taking a holistic approach that doesn’t exclude any healing modality, and instead, combines the best of both worlds to ensure the ideal wellness outcome for every individual who walks through our door.
If you or a loved one lives in the Grand Rapids, MI area and is seeking highly curated, individualized treatment designed exclusively for you—which includes both chiropractic care and physical therapy—then book your appointment today.