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in San Clemente, CA



Many patients coming to physical therapy have at some point considered going to or have been to, a chiropractor.

Physical Therapists and Chiropractors often treat similar conditions and areas of the body, leading patients to wonder, “What’s the difference between a physical therapist and a chiropractor?” While chiropractors and physical therapists treat and even co-treat many of the same conditions, they both offer unique perspectives on the focus and methods to reach a positive outcome for patients. 

Physical Therapy

Physical Therapy can mean something different to each patient because, similar to MDs, the field is split into many different medical specialties. In general, Physical Therapists embrace the description of “the movement specialists,” paying close attention to how the body moves and functions as a whole. Because of this, Physical Therapists perform both hands-on, “manual” therapy (which ranges from soft tissue work to adjustments or manipulations that you might receive from a chiropractor), as well as prescribe exercises and neuromuscular education to encourage independent healing and empowerment to self-manage symptoms. 

To become a Physical Therapist one must complete a Bachelor’s degree, attend an accredited physical therapy program, and in recent years, must also receive their Doctorate of Physical Therapy, and pass a licensing exam. Additionally, many Physical Therapists choose to specialize in a specific field, often going through residency programs or participating in fellowships to receive several years of additional training in a particular field.


Chiropractic means “to be done by hand,” which is an accurate representation of this field’s focus. Chiropractic care emphasizes diagnosis and treatment of mechanical disorders of the spine and joints, with a particular focus on how the joints can influence the nervous system and overall body alignment. The chiropractic field was first established in the 1890s with a focus on using spinal manipulation and joint adjustment to avoid reliance on other forms of medical intervention. This emphasis on the use of more conservative methods of treatment rather than reliance on medication or more invasive procedures continues to be a primary focus of the chiropractic field and is one of the reasons it’s attractive to many patients. 

To become a chiropractor, a student must complete a Bachelor’s degree, attend an accredited chiropractic program and receive a Doctor of Chiropractic degree, and then pass a certification exam to be able to receive licensure.

While many people feel good pain relief from chiropractic care, their symptoms frequently return in the weeks, months, or years after their treatments have ended.  Chiropractors do not typically include exercise instruction since the length of their appointments is brief and does not allow time for this. There comes a time for many patients when chiropractic care is no longer resulting in long-term symptom relief, which is when a complete physical therapy program that includes hands-on manual therapy treatment and an individualized exercise program can be very helpful.  Understanding what your healthcare provider can offer makes you a much more informed advocate for your own health!

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