Physical Therapy vs. Chiropractic School: Which One is Right for You?

When considering a career in healthcare, one may wonder whether to pursue physical therapy school or chiropractic school. Both of these fields tend to attract the same type of person. Those interested in healing without the use of pharmaceuticals. Both of these professions focus on treating musculoskeletal disorders, but there are some key differences to consider. As a physical therapist myself, I will walk you through both careers and things to consider as both careers can be rewarding and lucrative.

Physical therapists are trained to diagnose and treat a wide range of movement disorders, from sprains and strains to chronic conditions like arthritis and Parkinson’s disease. They work with patients of all ages to help them regain strength, flexibility, and range of motion after injury or surgery. This is all done using highly specialized knowledge in human anatomy, biomechanics, and exercise science to create individualized treatment plans to manage pain and prevent further injury.

Chiropractors, on the other hand, focus specifically on the musculoskeletal system and how it affects the body’s overall health. They have a much larger focus on spinal adjustments and other manual therapies to improve alignment, reduce pain, and promote healing.

When deciding between physical therapy school and chiropractic school, it is important to consider your personal strengths and goals. Physical therapy may be a good choice for those who enjoy working with a wide variety of patients, from children to the elderly, and who are interested in a holistic approach to healthcare. Chiropractic may be a good choice for those who are passionate about the musculoskeletal system and want to specialize in a hands-on, manual approach to treatment.

Educational requirements for a physical therapist vs chiropractor

Another important consideration is the educational requirements for each profession. Physical therapy programs typically require a doctoral degree, while chiropractic programs require a Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.) degree. I started my journey towards physical therapy school in 2014 and have just know reached the final point (2023) in graduating, passing boards, and accepting my first job offer.

Both programs involve extensive coursework in anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, and other sciences, as well as clinical rotations to gain practical experience. The length of each program can vary. They both require a four year bachelors to be accepted, with physical therapy programs typically taking three years and chiropractic programs taking four years to complete.

Job outlook

It is also important to consider the job outlook and earning potential for each profession. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of physical therapists is projected to grow 17 percent from 2021 to 2031, much faster than the average for all occupations. The median annual wage for physical therapists was $95,620 in May 2021. I go more in-depth on the income, job outlook, and job satisfaction of physical therapists in this post.

Employment of chiropractors is projected to grow 10 percent from 2021 to 2031, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics which is about as fast as the average for all occupations. The median annual wage for chiropractors was $75,000 in May 2021.

Are physical therapists and chiropractors similar?

Physical therapists and chiropractors share some similarities in their approach to treating musculoskeletal disorders, but there are also some key differences between the two professions.

Both physical therapists and chiropractors focus on improving the function of the musculoskeletal system to alleviate pain and improve overall health. They both use manual techniques to manipulate the body, and both emphasize the importance of exercise and healthy lifestyle habits to prevent future injuries and maintain optimal health.

The key difference between the two professions is the objective of the respective disciplines. Physical therapists goal is to promote patient autonomy. They do this by treating the underlying condition, educating the patient of the mechanism of injury, and the expected potential for recovery. After that is established the therapist works with the patient to make a plan that leads to the patient self managing their condition with an active approach.

A chiropractor on the other hand goal is to continue to treat the patient and provide services on a recurring basis. This involves an open-ended plan of care that could last for years that focuses on passive modalities such as manual techniques or electrical stimulation. While they may include exercise this is not their main focus.

There is very many variations of how PT’s and chiros practice. This spectrum is very large and both and swing in either direction. At the end of the day you chose to do what you want with your license and can treat very similar to either one after you are credentialed.

What settings do physical therapist and chiropractors work in?

Physical therapists work in a large range of settings. They can work in private clinics, sports facilities, gyms, hospitals, nursing homes, or even in patients homes. It is all dependent on the population you want to work with.

Chiropractors on the other hand only work in private clinics. Hospitals do not employ chiropractors as they are seen as alternative to medicine. They also do not have a place in sports, gyms or nursing homes as all of these settings require a large amount of knowledge in exercise prescription which is not a chiropractors main role.

Can physical therapists adjust the spine?

Yes, physical therapists are trained to be able to do spinal “adjustments” otherwise known as spinal manipulation. It is often believed that physical therapists are not trained to do this while this is untrue chiropractors do receive more advanced training in joint manipulations that therapists do.

All chiropractors can and will adjust the spine as this is their specialty in the medical field. All PT’s can adjust your spine, but you will find large variance in the amount of therapists that feel comfortable and are skilled with those techniques. Physical therapists can choose to further specialize in manual therapy and adjustments by completing fellowship training in manual therapy and becoming a member of organizations such as American Academy of Orthopaedic Manual Physical Therapists (AAOMPT).

In conclusion, both physical therapy school and chiropractic school can lead to rewarding careers in healthcare. The decision of which path to take ultimately depends on your personal strengths, interests, and goals. Consider your educational requirements, job outlook, and earning potential, as well as your passion for working with patients and helping them achieve optimal health and wellness. With careful consideration and dedication, either profession can provide a fulfilling and meaningful career.

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