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  • Writer's pictureDr. Thomas Harvey

The Difference Between a Chiropractor and Physical Therapist

Updated: Oct 14, 2022

When you think about it, a chiropractor may not seem that different from a physical therapist. Both use non-invasive techniques that often involve hands-on therapy to manage pain and physical discomfort. Also, both are licensed health professionals that go through years of study and training.

Be that as it may, the fact remains that a chiropractor and a physical therapist are two different health professionals. But, unlike their similarities, their key differences are not as obvious.

What Does a Chiropractor Do?

A chiropractor uses a hands-on approach to alleviate pain and inflammation. Their driving philosophy is to allow the body to heal or "readjust" itself with the help of a few chiropractic manipulations.

Chiropractic care doesn't involve any form of medication or surgery. It focuses, particularly on musculoskeletal and nervous health. Therefore, therapy revolves around the realignment of the spine.

Chiropractic care can help treat aches and pains that just don't go away, particularly when they involve:

  • The neck

  • The back (especially lower back pain)

  • Joints (knees, hips, shoulders, etc.)

  • The head

A chiropractor is a licensed health professional with a doctorate degree. Anyone can benefit from a visit to a chiropractor, who address less severe issues like posture as well.

What Does a Physical Therapist Do?

A physical therapist, or physiotherapist, is a health professional whose sole aim is to help people who've suffered injuries or debilitating conditions to move and function without pain.

The goal of any physiotherapist is to restore their patient's ability to move and function without any pain and discomfort in their daily life. In addition to helping them overcome the physical pain and trauma of a past injury or sickness, a physiotherapist educates their patients on how to remain active and healthy in the future.

Physical therapy may include posture education, heat, and cold therapy, and a few other modalities, all of which target pain reduction. Finally, there must be a wellness plan in place to boost the patient's overall health.

What are the Key Differences Between a Chiropractor and a Physiotherapist?

Physiotherapists and chiropractors are different in four major ways: their goals, their methods, their main focus, and their working spaces.


Chiropractic care, as we briefly mentioned, revolves around the re-alignment of the spine. The practice is based on the philosophy that many of our aches and pains are borne of problems we've caused ourselves via poor posture or unintentional bodily abuse.

By re-aligning the spine, chiropractors can get rid of chronic aches and pains in the neck, back, and head. Therefore, the key goal is pain relief through spinal realignment.

Physiotherapy has one goal: to enable pain-free movement. It may take a combination of exercise, manual therapy, and medication to achieve it, which sounds like the exact opposite of chiropractic care.


A chiropractor performs "adjustments" to the body before allowing it to naturally heal itself. Physiotherapy teaches you how to move again, be it through stretching or mobility exercises. Evidently, the two practices are based on entirely different methods.


While a physiotherapist focuses on the functioning and movement of the body as a whole, a chiropractor is more concerned with pain relief, be it headaches, joint, neck, or back pain.

Working Spaces

Physical therapy takes place in all sorts of environments: workspaces, homes, at the gym, healthcare environments-they can work anywhere either as a medical necessity or for their patient's comfort.

Chiropractic care, on the other hand, requires specialized workspaces and equipment. A few chiropractors may offer private adjustments, but for the most parts, chiropractors work almost exclusively from their dedicated offices.

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