Do You Need to See a Chiropractor or a Physical Therapist?

One day you’re riding along when you start to feel pain in your ankles. It grows worse over every following ride, until eventually you’re in serious pain when you ride. How do you fix the problem? Where do you start?

Most equestrians typically get two different pieces of advice– see a physical therapist, or see a chiropractor. Each profession has its benefits and its drawbacks. Keep reading to find out which one is right for you. 

Training for Physical Therapists vs. Chiropractors

The training for physical therapists is quite different from that for chiropractors. Physical therapists require a doctorate degree now, although previously only a master’s degree was required. Because of this (relatively) recent change, take their degree and years of experience into account before working with a physical therapist. 

Chiropractors also need a Doctor of Chiropractic degree, which takes four years to complete. Unfortunately, some of these D.C. programs don’t even require a bachelor’s degree in order to enter, just 90 hours of coursework in a sciences or anatomy-related program. 

Doctor’s of Physical Therapy must have a bachelor’s degree in order to enter a Doctorate program. Plus, after graduating from the Doctor of Physical Therapy program, the best physical therapists participate in a residency. All physical therapists must take the National Physical Therapy Examination, or similar state-level exam in order to obtain their license. Additionally, there are specialized certification programs available as well. 

Philosophy for Treatment

If physical therapy is a marathon, chiropractic work is a sprint. You may feel pain relief sooner with a chiropractor, but with physical therapy once you’ve completed your marathon you’re done and able to enjoy long-term results. With chiropractic work, you must continue going to the chiropractor indefinitely in order to maintain a pain-free riding career. 

Chiropractors realign the musculoskeletal system, but as long as you keep repeating incorrect movement patterns you’ll keep pushing your alignment out of whack. If you choose to work with a chiropractor, you can expect to require treatment between once a week to once a month indefinitely. 

Physical therapists teach you how to change your movement patterns to maintain alignment so you eventually won’t need to attend sessions anymore. With chiropractors, you may feel relief in the first few days. Physical therapy is a longer, slower process but once complete lasts as long as you use appropriate movement patterns.

Problems Treated

Chiropractors focus on issues relating to the spine and nervous system. They commonly treat back and neck pain, and focus on manipulating various muscles in order to allow for appropriate blood flow and alignment.

Physical therapists work on a larger scale and treat more areas of the body. A Doctor of physical therapy will treat limb issues, as well as spinal pain, and focus on preventing issues as well. Working with a physical therapist will set you up for healthy movement for life, as they catch red flags before they start causing problems. 

The best physical therapists can do post-surgical rehabilitation as well, which is not commonly seen in chiropractors. After a surgery, restoring movement to the injured area is crucial. A physical therapist can help you get there faster. 

All in all, physical therapists take a big picture comprehensive view of the body, versus the more narrow perspective of chiropractors. 

Techniques Used

A Doctor of Physical Therapy combines massage, manual therapy utilizing spinal and limb mobilizations, laser therapy, and prescribed exercise to retrain your muscle memory to move appropriately and correct itself over time. Chiropractors use mainly physical manipulation of the body and often don’t expand to differing techniques or at-home exercises. 

During treatment, you can expect your physical therapist to evaluate you and your horse’s movement during activity, whereas most chiropractors will evaluate you at rest. With a physical therapist, you can expect some homework in the form of at-home exercises, self mobilizations, along with ice and heat therapy if needed . This is part of the big picture view the best physical therapists take and helps with the goal of long-term sustainable recovery. 

Risks of Seeing a DPT and a Chiropractor

As with all medical treatments, there are some inherent risks to seeing a chiropractor or Doctor of Physical Therapy. Unfortunately, more risk is attached to chiropractic work than physical therapy. A chiropractor can be useful in physically realigning the body to make movement easier, however if you are looking to find the root cause of the malalignment the physical therapist is the way to go.

Physical therapists are movement experts who follow the “slow and steady” philosophy. They allow the body to adjust to new movement patterns and get stronger over time, versus creating immediate changes in the musculoskeletal system. A physical therapist may not be as effective at short term relief, but you can start to see and feel results in mere weeks.

When Should You See a Doctor of Physical Therapy 

If you are in pain, in the state of Maryland, you do not require a physician prescription to take advantage of physical therapy.  

If your horse is in pain, you should always start with a visit to a veterinarian to ensure it’s safe to pursue alternative therapies. 

Start your physical therapy journey today, for you and your horse. Dr. Shields has the experience you and your horse need in order to perform your best and ride pain-free. 

Contact Physio Equine Solutions today. 

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