Physical Therapist vs Chiropractor: What’s the Difference?
People who are injured in car accidents seek out many different types of treatment in order to recover from their injuries. Two of the most common medical providers that accident victims may see are physical therapists and chiropractors. Physical therapy and chiropractic care serve to treat similar types of injuries but may take different approaches. It is important to understand the similarities and differences in these kinds of care as well as why it is inadvisable to see both a physical therapist and chiropractor at the same time (known as “double treatment“) for your injuries.
After an accident, it is important to get checked out thoroughly by a medical doctor at an emergency room, urgent care center, or your primary care facility, depending on the severity of your injuries. The doctor may make a recommendation or referral for future treatment, and it is in your best interest for both your health and your legal claim to follow all physician instructions. Depending on your treating physician’s professional beliefs as well as the types of injuries you sustained as a result of the accident, he or she may recommend seeing an orthopedic doctor or physical therapist, or they could suggest making an appointment with a chiropractor.
You should always follow the orders of your doctor and seek the treatment course recommended for your injuries. If your primary care physician refers you to a physical therapist and you are unhappy with the results, you can always go back to your doctor to discuss further treatment with a different type of medical provider or get a second opinion from another medical professional. However, it is imperative to understand that if you choose to pursue both types of care (physical therapy and chiropractic) at the same time, you risk the insurance company denying coverage for portions of your treatment.
When a patient sees a chiropractor while also treating with a physical therapist for the same injuries sustained in a car accident, the insurance company calls this “double treatment” or “double treating.” Basically, this means that you are receiving very similar types of treatment and care for the same injuries, which the insurance company sees as excessive and medically unnecessary. However, if you begin by seeing a chiropractor and feel after a period of time that this type of care is insufficient and you are still in pain, then you may wish to consider seeking other forms of treatment. You should then go back to your primary care doctor and let them know you are still having pain and wish to seek another avenue of treatment. If the doctor refers you to see an orthopedic specialist, you will be evaluated and may be recommended to physical therapy. In this example, you are not considered “double treating,” as chiropractic care was not sufficient to heal your injuries and you were recommended by a doctor to try physical therapy. It is important to note that if you begin physical therapy you absolutely should not continue with the chiropractor during the same time frame. The insurance adjuster should consider all care you receive that has been deemed medically necessary in their evaluation of your claim.
Similarities and Differences in Care
The American Chiropractic Association or ACA defines chiropractic care as healthcare that focuses on disorders of the musculoskeletal system and nervous system and their effects on overall health. Chiropractors frequently treat back, neck and joint pain, in addition to headaches. They focus on treating without the use of drugs and rely heavily on their diagnostic skills as well as the use of therapeutic and rehabilitative exercises to get the client back to health. A chiropractor may also give a patient advice on nutrition and how to live a healthy lifestyle.
The most common type of chiropractic treatment is known as an adjustment or a manipulation. In a spinal manipulation, the chiropractor puts pressure on joints surrounding the spine in order to increase mobility after tissue injury. It is not clear or agreed upon within the medical community if chiropractic treatment can effectively treat non-musculoskeletal conditions, but this type of care does seem to assist patients with back pain. To treat back pain, a chiropractor may manipulate a slipped disc or nerve back into place manually, relieving some pain and pressure in the patient’s back. As a result, chiropractic adjustments can be felt in the body almost immediately.
The American Physical Therapy Association or APTA defines physical therapy as the healthcare practice of maintaining, restoring and improving movement, activity and health. Physical therapists also work to promote general health, wellness and fitness by recognizing risk factors and working with patients to reduce these risks. The goal of this type of care is to improve mobility and strength in injured areas of the body while also relieving pain associated with injuries. Physical therapists receive a more intervention- and therapeutic-based education than chiropractors, whose education tends to focus more on diagnostics. Physical therapy may use manual therapy treatments similar to chiropractic care but tends to focus more on therapeutic exercise, modalitie, and activity modification. A physical therapist may use a combination of several methods in approaching back pain, including heat therapy, ultrasound, massage, mobilization and exercise in an effort to strengthen and stretch the muscles and connective tissue around the hurting area. These techniques may work to improve flexibility and movement in the back muscles that have been giving a patient pain.
A major difference between a physical therapist and chiropractor is that physical therapy focuses more on gradual recovery and making sure that results last, which means that the relief may not be as immediate as with chiropractic care. Physical therapists often teach clients exercises they can do on their own to relieve pain and build strength without the help of a physical therapist. Chiropractors may also offer a patient sets of exercises they can do independently to increase mobility, but focus more on manually relieving pain, which the patient will not likely be able to do on their own. All in all, chiropractic care and physical therapy have the same goal: to alleviate tension and nerve compression as well as to restore mobility without the use of drugs or surgery, if possible. The two healthcare practices engage in similar treatment practices and types of care in order to reach their goal of relieving a patient’s pain.
Decisions About Treatment
If you have been injured in an accident and are considering seeing a chiropractor or a physical therapist, it would be advisable to first seek the medical opinion of a physician who can assess your body for injury and recommend the best course of treatment. When pursuing a claim for compensation, it is most important that you seek the medical treatment that you need. However, it is vital that you only seek care that is medically necessary if you wish to be compensated for your treatment expenses. As discussed previously, if you seek treatment with a physical therapist and chiropractor at the same time for the same injuries, a claims adjuster working for the insurance company will often deny coverage for one treatment or the other, providing compensation for only what is medically reasonable and necessary for injuries sustained. It is therefore extremely important to have a complete and genuine understanding of what your medical doctor believes is the best treatment plan for your accident-related injuries.
If you have questions about the concept of double treating or would like recommendations on getting medical treatment after an accident, check out our other articles on the medical treatment page.