Physical Therapy vs Chiropractic Care


Physical therapy vs chiropractic which one is better? well, these two fields were once considered very different from one another that is looking more and more similar every day. The main difference lies in the methodology of treatment. 

Just as there are a plethora of specializations for medical doctors, so too are there many specializations for physical therapy. At Knoxville Spine & Sports, our physical therapists specialize in sports injury management, vertebral disc injuries, lower extremity biomechanics (foot, knee, hip), and soft tissue mobilization. Now, the conditions that they treat far exceed specifically what fits into these categories but these specialties dictate the methods with which they approach care. 

How Is Physical Therapy Performed?

This will often look like an early emphasis on the treatment of dysfunctional soft tissues (muscle, ligament, and tendon) with an appropriate amount of therapeutic exercise for the condition. As the patient progresses this will take more of an emphasis on therapeutic exercise and systematic loading of the affected area and less on the tissue around it. Physical therapy is typically carried out until complete resolution of the injury, and once achieved, discontinued.

How Is Chiropractic Care Performed?

chiropractor adjusting patients lower back Chiropractic slightly differs in methodology but follows a similar model. On the front end, there is no need to have a referral for chiropractic care as in many states they are considered primary care physicians. This is generally not the case for Physical Therapy where a referring physician is often needed. 

Chiropractic historically has emphasized the “chiropractic adjustment” or specific joint mobilization as a major part of their care. Our chiropractors have advanced training both in spinal manipulation as well as the extremities. The adjustment has proven to be a very powerful tool specifically when applied to the joints of the spine and pelvis. Physical Therapists are capable of restoring balance to the pelvis and spine as well and some can even mobilize joints but generally, the specificity of the PT mobilization is not quite that of what is done with chiropractic.

What Treatment is the Best?

At Knoxville Spine & Sports, our chiropractic care has a large emphasis on gaining joint mobility. This typically looks like a chiropractic adjustment to any structures that are restricted and contributing to the injury, followed by a plethora of soft tissue modalities similar to that which is used in PT. This is done to ensure full mobility is restored to the affected joints. Specific therapeutic exercises are also prescribed as home-care to maximize the effectiveness of the treatment 

Under chiropractic care, after full resolution of the injury is obtained, it is encouraged that the patient return for maintenance visits at a frequency that is determined by their unique circumstances. This may be once a month, 6 weeks, or otherwise. This is done to combat joint restrictions that may occur as a byproduct of daily activity and could lead to re-injury or decreased performance.

Using Physical Therapy vs Chiro Together

The distinct advantage that a clinic such as Knoville Spine & Sports has over other types of musculoskeletal rehabilitation facilities is the access at any point to both chiropractic care and physical therapy. Both have a unique range of skill sets that, when used simultaneously, leads to the best outcomes for complete recovery of an array of conditions. 

Treating a Bulging Disc With Chiro vs Physical Therapy

Disc bulge management: When treating an acute disc bulge it is imperative to determine the direction that the disc is protruding. A thorough evaluation can be performed by a physical therapist or a chiropractor utilizing the McKenzie Method to determine the severity as well as the position of the disc. Once determined, vertebral and pelvic malalignment caused by the protruding disc must be treated so that the exercises to reposition the disc can be maximally effective. This is most effectively done with a chiropractic adjustment. The tight and spastic muscle that is splinting the damaged area must be released which can be done through a variety of modalities utilized by a Physical Therapist or chiropractor. The patient must then perform a series of movements and exercises specific to the direction of the disc bulge which should be prescribed and overseen by a McKenzie trained Physical Therapist. Both will manage the case over the course of the injury.

Treating Runners Knee With Chiropractic vs Physical Therapy

Runners Knee (Iliotibial band Syndrome): A thorough evaluation must be performed by a PT or a Chiro to assess the biomechanics of the patient’s gait and lower extremity. The inflamed muscle and tendon of the affected area must be treated with a number of therapies that could be performed by a PT or Chiro. If the problem is coming from dysfunction of the hip musculature, the pelvis and low back must be assessed for joint restriction or malposition. This is most effectively done through a chiropractic adjustment. Over half, the battle with runner’s knee that is related to a dysfunctional or weak hip will be strengthening it. Specific exercises for this must be prescribed and overseen by a PT. 

With runner’s knee it is also common for the pain to be coming from a dysfunctional foot. In this case, the restricted joints of the foot must be mobilized so that the exercises to control the foot and knee will be able to utilize the proper musculature and the joint can be trained through its full range. A PT or a Chiropractor can do this but a chiropractor trained in lower extremity adjusting will be better suited to move the affected bone in the right way. Sometimes it is also important that the patient has a custom orthotic that will better offload the effected region while it is being rehabilitated. This is best done by a PT that specializes in orthotic fabrication and foot biomechanics.

Conditions That Physical Therapy Treats:

woman performing a split squat with her sports trainingSpine and head:

Upper Extremity:

Lower extremity:

If you’re looking for a chiropractor or physical therapist in Knoxville, TN, call us at (865) 337-5574 today to schedule an appointment.

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