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Difference Between Chiropractor & Physical Therapist

Chiropractors and physical therapists both work in the healthcare industry and treat patients, but their treatment strategies differ. Continue reading to learn more about the similarities and differences between chiropractors and physical therapists.

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Comparing Chiropractor to Physical Therapist

Chiropractors and physical therapists are healthcare professionals who treat patients, but provide different types of treatments. Chiropractors use their skills to determine what parts of a patient's system aren't aligned properly and physically manipulate their spine, muscles or other parts of their neuromusculoskeletal system to correct their alignment. Physical therapists assess the physical capabilities of their patients and determine how to improve their motor functions and physical health through exercise.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary* (2016) Job Outlook* (2014-2024)
Chiropractor Doctoral Degree $67,520 17%
Physical Therapist Doctoral Degree $85,400 34%

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Responsibilities of Chiropractor vs Physical Therapist

Chiropractors and physical therapists must complete a comparable level of postsecondary training in order to enter their career field. They may both be involved with the medical care of people who have been affected by an illness or an injury. The key differences between these professionals lies in how they treat them. Chiropractors focus on the neuromusculoskeletal system and they may physically manipulate parts of a patient's body in order to improve their alignment. Physical therapists use exercise and devices that can assist patients to help them regain their mobility or reduce physical pain. Both may also have a specialized field of interest, such as sports or geriatrics.

Chiropractor

Chiropractors must complete at least seven years of postsecondary study to earn a Doctor of Chiropractic degree. They are also required to have a state license to practice. They primarily work in medical offices or hospitals where they treat patients, and their hours can extend into evenings and weekends. They need to be physically fit enough to spend long periods of time standing. It's important for them to pay close attention to details and communicate effectively with patients so that they can properly assess their condition.

Job responsibilities of a chiropractor include:

  • Adjust spine of patients for increased health
  • Manipulate parts of a patient's neuromusculoskeletal system
  • Perform various procedures accordingly, such as sonography or massage therapy
  • Teach patients how to improve neuromusculoskeletal health
  • Update patient records

Physical Therapist

Physical therapists must earn a doctoral degree in their field and have a valid state license in order to practice. They treat patients, and their work can involve lifting or assisting patients when they move, so they need to be in good physical health and capable of working on their feet for long periods of time. Their work involves treating people who are ill or injured so it's important that they are thorough in their assessment of the patient's condition so that they can effectively treat the patient. It's also important for them to have good communication skills and people skills so that they can make patients feel comfortable discussing their medical concerns and get an accurate picture of the symptoms the patient is experiencing. They primarily work in medical offices or hospitals.

Job responsibilities of a physical therapist include:

  • Observe patients while they're moving
  • Identify the source of a patient's pain
  • Determine what parts of the body have been injured or affected by a patient's illness
  • Teach patients how to perform exercises that can improve their health
  • Develop a plan to manage pain
  • Set progress goals for their patients

Related Careers

If you're interested in a career as a chiropractor because you like using your hands to treat patients but don't want to spend several years in college, you may want to consider a career as a massage therapist. Alternatively, if you're considering a career in physical therapy you may also be interested in exercise physiology, because these healthcare professionals also use exercise to help address their patients' health issues.

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