Who Should I Visit for My Back Pain?

Haley Bass

Maybe you have a 9-5 desk job, and no amount of stretching seems to relieve the tension from sitting all day. Or maybe you had to lift some heavy materials in your manufacturing job, and the sharp pain in your lower back isn’t going away. You could’ve slipped in the kitchen and the fall makes it hard to walk. Or--no shame--maybe you’ve been spending a little too much time looking down at your phone, and your neck and shoulder pain makes it hard to turn your head.

Whatever the situation, back and neck pain isn’t pleasant for anyone. Luckily, there are research-proven ways to manage the pain without relying on medication. Two common solutions are visiting a physical therapist or a chiropractor. But which one should you go see?

Before making your appointment, here are some similarities and differences between physical therapists and chiropractors that you should consider.

What do they treat?

Physical therapists (PTs) generally focus on the musculoskeletal and neuromuscular systems, treating injuries or conditions that impact the body’s movement and function, and helping you rebuild strength and endurance after surgery.

Chiropractors also focus on treating the musculoskeletal and nervous systems. People who receive chiropractic care typically have joint or muscle pain, such as back or neck pain, arm or leg joint pain, and headaches.

What are their treatment processes like?

Physical therapists design treatment processes that improve long-term functionality. PTs tailor each treatment plan to the patient’s needs. As part of their treatment process, PTs will explain what caused the problem and why you’re in pain, then walk you through exercises that will help you improve function over time. PT treatment programs can last from a few weeks to several months and can include 30-60 minute sessions with a therapist and an at-home exercise plan.

While chiropractors also use a hands-on approach, their treatment is focused more on the spine. They focus more on realigning the vertebrae in your spine (referred to as spinal manipulation) to release tension in the body, which relieves your pain. Chiropractors also recommend multiple visits, which can last around 10-30 minutes per visit.

How does their treatment help me?

Both physical therapists and chiropractors can help you reduce pain and improve physical function so that the root cause of your problem is solved, instead of just treating symptoms with medication. In some cases, they can even help you avoid surgery.

Physical therapists promote long-term health by teaching patients how to manage their condition and prevent reoccurrence of pain. Active participation through education and hands-on learning helps the patient advocate for their own health and well-being.

Chiropractors help provide immediate pain relief and restore stability and function to the spine. Treatment can also improve posture and sleep habits. Patients may need to return for maintenance visits throughout the year, getting spinal adjustments to relieve pain as needed.

What education is required for their job?

Physical therapists receive their Doctorate in Physical Therapy (DPT) following competition of a doctoral program from an accredited PT school. They then must pass the national licensure exam to practice. A PT graduate program takes around three years to complete and comprises of about 80% classroom and lab study, and 20% clinical rotations. PTs then require annual continuing medical education to maintain their license.

Chiropractors receive their Doctorate of Chiropractic (DC) after completing a doctoral program through an accredited chiropractic school, passing a national board exam, and getting a license in the state in which they plan to practice. The graduate program curriculum blends time in the classroom and lab with clinical internships. Chiropractors must meet yearly continuing education requirements to maintain their licensure.


When you’re experiencing back pain, both physical therapists and chiropractors could be the answer to your problem. It really depends on the type of treatment you’re looking for. Use this information and perform some of your own research to make the best decision for you.

If you’d like to meet with a physical therapist, Concentra employees some of the highest qualified therapists  in the industry, averaging 10 years of experience with 75% holding advanced degrees. Contact your local Concentra center and start treatment immediately.