Sports Chiropractors versus Physical Therapists (PTs)

There are many similarities and overlaps between these two providers from a standpoint of what they do in the real world, but there are also some important differences in philosophy and training that you need to be aware of.

Let’s start with education first. We really detailed the education requirements of sports chiropractors in the previous section. Most PT programs now offer doctorate level educational degrees.

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This means that in addition to an undergraduate degree, a PT will spend 3 years in a post-graduate program. From there, they may also go on to specialize in certain areas of care by completing a residency program.

Both PT’s and sports chiropractors are board-certified by their respective national accrediting associations, and each must have valid license to practice in his or her state.

In terms of the way they practice, both can be very similar. Both groups practice by evidence based guidelines, which means they have valid research that supports the rationale and efficacy of the methods that they use. PT’s are not trained in the “chiropractic adjustment”, but they are trained in “spinal manipulation,” which can be used to assist in motion to the joints when needed.

Both may use soft tissue manipulation techniques and joint adjustment/mobilization in their therapeutic regimens.

Many sports chiropractors are trained in the use of bio-mechanics, improvement of movement patterns, exercise rehabilitation, physiotherapy, stretching, passive modalities (ice, heat, compression, etc), strength and resistance training. PT’s may have this training and knowledge as well, but it can vary depending on their area of specialty.

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Both PT’s and sports chiropractors have advanced knowledge of the neurological systems and how they relate to musculoskeletal structure and function. While both can sub-specialize in neurology, sports chiropractors tend to have more foundational knowledge in these areas in their relation to athletic performance.

While PT’s specializing in sports medicine may also share this expertise, sports chiropractors have deep insight into the areas of balance, muscle coordination and memory, core stability and proprioception and how these facets of movement affect training, performance and the potential for and prevention of injury. PT’s may specialize in the treatment of neurologic disorders and injuries such as Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, Cerebral Palsy and Traumatic Brain Injuries.

PT’s and sports chiropractors can both see and treat patients of all ages, but PT’s may also be specialized in areas such as women’s health and geriatrics. PT’s may also specialize to treat patients suffering with long-term, chronic debilitating conditions such as Heart Failure and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.

In terms of injury rehabilitation, both PT’s and sports chiropractors are excellent choices.

Both practitioners have expertise in the overuse injuries, and frequently treat them in their practices. With proper post graduate education either a physical therapist or a sports chiropractor can focus on sport-specific strength and conditioning techniques that can keep you on track with your training and even give your performance a boost.

Sports chiropractors are DC’s, which means they all have general training in nutrition and how it relates to health. PT’s may or may not have this foundational knowledge, depending on their undergraduate background and area of residency training.

Bruce Short