An Interview with Dr. Karyn Staples, PT PhD, the lead physical therapist and owner of ProHealth Physical Therapy and Pilates Studio
Physical therapists are the movement experts. They look at improving movements. The chiropractor is the structural alignment expert, specifically of the spine. If the spine is out of alignment, then everything else can’t function well.
As physical therapists, we are looking at the whole body and the quality of your movement. Movements done slightly incorrectly over a long time, can lead to microtraumas in different parts of your body, which eventually lead to pain.
People have to find what works for them. A chiropractor can be that quick fix. For example, you just stepped off a curb weird, and something feels a little bit off. Or you wake up with your neck a little stiff. And in both cases, with one quick adjustment at the chiropractor, it could be fixed.
A physical therapist can help for the long term. They’ll answer the questions, “How do I make sure this doesn’t happen again? How do I make sure that I’m in the proper posture?” We use the word posture in physical therapy versus alignment. We also answer, “How do I look at the positions I put myself in and activities I do throughout the day and make them best for my body?” The physical therapist teaches foundational exercises that the patient can continue even outside therapy to maintain a proper foundation. So hopefully our patients will only need the physical therapist or the chiropractor for a future trauma or emergency.
If the pain has been going on for longer than 14 days, then you want to go ahead and contact the physical therapist. If it’s within that 14-day time period, there is actually really good evidence in low back pain, that a lumbar manipulation from a chiropractor is warranted. But if the pain is going past your knee, if it’s been there for more than 14 days, if it is of a nature that is keeping you awake at night, then that’s something that you might need to seek a different healthcare professional like a physical therapist or medical doctor to address.
At ProHealth, we do not have an adversarial relationship with chiropractors. It’s very much a myth that physical therapists and chiropractors hate each other. There is some overlap in each profession. I have a lot of respect for the training that they go through, as well as the chiropractors we share patients with, some of whom send their patients to us.
Some individuals need both PT and chiropractic. Certain activities people do in life get them both out of alignment and off balance. Professional athletes will have both. So there definitely is a place for all these. Physical therapists and chiropractors, we’re all ancillary healthcare professionals and it’s best to work together as a team. It helps to know where the strengths of each healthcare practitioner is, so that way the patient can benefit the most from the time that they’re spending with that practitioner.
Recently, an individual came to one of our wellness classes and after class felt fine, but a few hours later just felt like some things in her body seized up. She was getting ready to go on a trip, and she sought physical therapy. Unfortunately we did not have any openings that day to see her. She was a little bit panicked, needing to go out of town. I recommended, because of where her discomfort was that she consult a chiropractor and made a couple of recommendations. And she was, and it was very helpful. It was the appropriate treatment for her at that time. And it was exactly what she needed.
I had a patient who had done chiropractic for years. They felt like they had to go every week, or every couple of weeks. And they never felt that they stayed in alignment. So they sought out physical therapy. The problem was that they didn’t have the muscular balance to maintain the alignment. They kept pulling themselves out of alignment. By coming to physical therapy, they were able to learn how to activate their muscles properly, how to have the proper posture in the right movements. After physical therapy, they were able to tell, as needed when they were out of alignment and needed their chiropractor. But it wasn’t ongoing, and they could maintain their alignment afterward because of their physical therapy training.
Both professions are licensed professions that require graduate level training. With any individual patient, you have a sense of connection with your practitioners. As a physical therapist, I’m open to listening to the patient share their full set of treatments and create relationships with those other providers. Overall we strive for a patient centered care model versus trying to be territorial.