When it comes to seeking treatment for issues with the musculoskeletal system, two common options are chiropractors and orthopedists. These healthcare professionals specialize in different areas but have the same goal of helping patients find relief from pain and improve their overall well-being. Chiropractic care focuses on non-surgical care of musculoskeletal pain. Orthopedists are medical doctors who specialize in treating more complex musculoskeletal pain that may need more serious intervention (like surgery). Let's explore the differences between chiropractors and orthopedists in terms of education, approach to treatment, and conditions they treat.


Key Takeaway

  • Chiropractors and orthopedists are healthcare professionals who specialize in conditions related to the musculoskeletal system. 
  • Chiropractors focus on the spine and nervous system, while orthopedists have a broader scope that includes other parts of the musculoskeletal system. 
  • Both professions undergo rigorous training, with chiropractors completing a four-year chiropractic program and orthopedists completing medical school and a residency program.
  • Chiropractors use non-invasive hands-on techniques to treat conditions like back and neck pain, while orthopedists may employ both non-surgical and surgical interventions.
  • While chiropractors can be sought for sports injuries and headaches, orthopedists can handle more complex musculoskeletal conditions like fractures or muscle tears.
  • The choice between a chiropractor and an orthopedist can depend on the severity of the condition, the need for surgery, and personal preference.
  • There can be instances where collaborative care from both a chiropractor and an orthopedist can benefit the patient.


What is a Chiropractor?

Education and Training of Chiropractors

Chiropractors undergo rigorous training to become experts in their field. After completing undergraduate studies, they enroll in a chiropractic program, which typically takes four years to complete. During their training, chiropractors learn about the body's structure, particularly the spine, and its connection to overall health. They also receive extensive training in diagnosis, manual adjustments, and other non-invasive treatments.

Approach to Treatment by Chiropractors

Chiropractors focus on the relationship between the spine and the nervous system. They believe that misalignments in the spine can interfere with the body's natural healing process and lead to various health issues. Using hands-on techniques, such as spinal adjustments, chiropractors aim to restore proper alignment and alleviate pain. Additionally, they may recommend exercises, stretches, and lifestyle modifications to support long-term recovery and prevent future problems.

Conditions Treated by Chiropractors

Chiropractors primarily treat conditions related to the musculoskeletal system, especially those affecting the spine. This includes back pain, neck pain, headaches, and certain joint conditions. Chiropractic care can also be beneficial for managing chronic pain and improving overall posture and mobility.

What is an Orthopedist?

Education and Training of Orthopedists

An orthopedic doctor, also known as an orthopedist, is a medical doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of conditions affecting the musculoskeletal system. After completing four years of medical school, orthopedists undergo a residency program focused on orthopedics. During their residency, they gain hands-on experience in diagnosing and treating various musculoskeletal conditions, including fractures, ligament injuries, and joint disorders.

Approach to Treatment by Orthopedists

Orthopedists take a comprehensive approach to treatment, considering both surgical and non-surgical options. They use advanced medical techniques and technologies to diagnose and manage musculoskeletal conditions. Orthopedic doctors may recommend physical therapy, medication, injections, or orthopedic surgery, depending on the severity of the condition and the patient's individual needs.

Conditions Treated by Orthopedists

Orthopedists treat a wide range of conditions, including bone fractures, ligament tears, arthritis, and sports injuries. They also specialize in joint replacement surgeries and complex reconstructive procedures. Orthopedic doctors work closely with patients to develop customized treatment plans that address their specific needs and help restore functionality and mobility.

What are the Similarities and Differences between Chiropractors and Orthopedists?

Focus of Chiropractors vs Orthopedists

The primary focus of chiropractors is the spine and its impact on the overall health of the nervous system. They believe that spinal adjustments can promote proper alignment and facilitate the body's natural healing mechanisms. On the other hand, orthopedists have a broader focus on the entire musculoskeletal system, including bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments.

Types of Treatments Offered

Both chiropractors and orthopedists offer various treatment options depending on the condition and severity. Chiropractors predominantly use manual adjustments and non-invasive techniques to address joint stiffness and related issues. Conversely, orthopedists may employ a combination of non-surgical treatments, such as physical therapy and medication, as well as surgical interventions.

When to See a Chiropractor vs an Orthopedist

Deciding whether to see a chiropractor or an orthopedist depends on the nature and severity of the condition. Chiropractors are often sought after for back pain, neck pain, and headaches caused by joint stiffness or overuse injuries. They also offer preventive care and wellness-focused treatments. On the other hand, orthopedists are consulted for more complex musculoskeletal issues, such as fractures, tears, and degenerative conditions.

Which Specialist Should You Choose for Your Condition?

Factors to Consider when Choosing Between a Chiropractor and an Orthopedist

When choosing between a chiropractor and an orthopedist, several factors should be taken into account. The severity of the condition, the need for surgical intervention, and personal preferences all play a role in making the right decision. It is also important to consider the expertise and experience of the healthcare professional, as well as their communication style and approach to treatment.

Collaboration between Chiropractors and Orthopedists

In some cases, collaboration between chiropractors and orthopedists may be beneficial for patients. Both specialists bring unique perspectives and expertise to the table, which can lead to more comprehensive care. For example, a patient with chronic back pain may benefit from chiropractic adjustments along with orthopedic interventions for long-term pain management and functional improvement.

When to Consult Both a Chiropractor and an Orthopedist

In certain situations, it may be appropriate to consult both a chiropractor and an orthopedist. This could be especially beneficial for complex cases that require a multidisciplinary approach. By working together, chiropractors and orthopedists can collaborate on the best course of treatment to address the patient's specific needs and optimize outcomes.


In conclusion, chiropractors and orthopedists have different areas of expertise and approach to treatment. Chiropractors focus on the spine and nervous system and primarily use manual adjustments and non-invasive techniques. Orthopedists, as medical doctors, have a broader scope and may recommend both non-surgical and surgical interventions. When choosing between a chiropractor and an orthopedist, it is important to consider the nature of the condition, the desired treatment approach, and the expertise of the healthcare professional. In some cases, collaboration between the two specialists may provide the best outcomes for patients. Always consult with a medical professional to determine the most suitable approach for your specific condition.

Byron  Lam

Byron Lam

Chiropractor, CCSP®, FR® Spine

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