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Chiropractor vs. Physical Therapy: Effective for the Back

author image Jessica McCahon
Jessica began her writing career in 1995 and is Senior Editor at a London communications agency, where she writes and edits corporate publications covering health, I.T., banking and finance. Jessica has also written for consumer magazines including "Cosmopolitan" and travel, home/lifestyle and bridal titles. Jessica holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature and journalism from the University of Queensland.
Chiropractor vs. Physical Therapy: Effective for the Back
Physical therapy and chiropractic sessions both treat back pain without drugs or surgery. Photo Credit: KatarzynaBialasiewicz/iStock/Getty Images

Chiropractic sessions and physical therapy are two different ways you can treat back pain, but they essentially have the same end goal: to alleviate tension and nerve compression and restore mobility without drugs or surgery. Chiropractic treatment involves a trained practitioner manipulating your spine and surrounding muscles, while physical therapy involves a trained practitioner designing a program of exercises and assisting you in certain movements and massage techniques to relieve pain and restore strength and mobility. How effective each of these treatments is depends on the type of injury you have and your unique response to the therapy.

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Chiropractic Adjustments

A common cause of back pain is a slipped, or subluxed, disc which can pinch the nerves in your spinal column. Chiropractic treatment involves the practitioner manipulating the slipped disc or pinched nerve back into its correct position with force and speed, says Steven G. Yeomans, DC, on the spine-health website. At the point where the tension is released, you may hear a cracking sound as gas is released from the pressure-filled joint. For this treatment to be fully effective, you need to be very relaxed, so your practitioner may massage or apply ice to the affected area before performing the adjustment.

Chiropractic Benefits and Side Effects

After just one chiropractic session you may feel reduced pain in your back and be able to move more freely, says Yeomans. This tension release can also ease compression of blood vessels and, therefore, improve the circulation of nutrient-rich blood to the injured area. It is common for the manipulated part of your back to feel sore for about 24 hours after a chiropractic adjustment, but applying ice to the treated area usually reduces these symptoms.

Physical Therapy Treatment

This type of treatment for a back injury can involve a range of techniques including heat therapy, ultrasound, massage, mobilization and exercise, says the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma website. In particular, your therapist is likely to focus on strengthening and stretching the muscles and connective tissues around the affected area to improve posture and support and enhance flexibility and movement. As a result of this program, you should experience reduced pain and tension.

Physical Therapy Benefits and Side Effects

According to Dana L. Davis, MPT, on the spineuniverse website, physical therapy focuses on gradual recovery and maintaining the results. So, while the effects may not be felt as quickly as those of a chiropractic session, you may learn techniques that mean you can continue with treatment in the long term on your own. The time it takes to start feeling the benefits of physical therapy is different for every person and the type of injury you have, but Davis says two weeks is the average time it takes to notice a difference. No matter what your situation is, patience and a commitment to performing the prescribed exercises is essential for physical therapy success.

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