Let’s be honest and upfront with each other here. I’m a physical therapist. But hold on, I might say something you aren’t expecting to hear from a PT.
I’m not writing this article as a physical therapist aimed to rag on chiropractors. I’m actually writing this article to rag on everyone, physical therapists, chiropractors, and everyone else in the rehab world.
My real goal is to give you a way to recognize the right clinician. That is the person who is going to give you the best chance to get out of pain and experience life as you hope to.
First: Why should you listen to anything I have to say on this topic?
That is a wonderful and deserved question.
We have a unique clinic here in Boise. We’ve arranged our clinic so that we can see fewer people each day, meaning we have more time with each patient. This also means we have more time to research, study, and prepare for each patient.
End result? We’re often able to help people who were unsuccessful with other therapies before us.
So we see a lot of people who have already tried physical therapy, chiropractors, massage therapists, acupuncturists, YouTube stretching routines, all sorts of medications, and yoga exercises. There’s a lot of things people will try to get out of pain. And understandably so!
People will often share their unsuccessful search for pain relief with a friend or co-worker, who then refers them to us. Then we hear the story of their fruitless search for relief.
This is the process by which we have garnered unexpected insight into what people tend to experience with other rehab professionals.
Why other therapies have failed
The reasons other therapies have failed can certainly vary, but there is typically one big issue that leads to a cascade of troubles.
The number one problem is the clinician doesn’t perform a thorough, insightful physical examination. Without a good exam, the clinician doesn’t know what is going on, which means the patient certainly won’t know what is going on.
If you don’t know what is causing the pain and why, any treatment and game plan will be complete guesswork. The clinician will just do what they do for everyone else and hope you get better.
Sometimes they get lucky and it works for a few people now and then. Other times it works for a little bit, but the pain comes back once the patient tries to ramp up their activity and they feel like they’re back to square one.
Our philosophy on this is the following: treatment should be simple, diagnosis is the hard part.
That means if we find what is causing the pain and why, the treatment should be very specific, directed, and simple. If we’re right, and we spend every waking hour making sure we’re experts on diagnosis, the treatment will also be very effective.
So where in the world do I go for help? I need pain relief!
Now let’s answer the initial question: should I see a chiropractor or physical therapist for my back pain?
We don’t believe that any one profession owns the best methods of pain relief. Rather, what we find is most important is getting to the right clinician.
The right clinician will seek to understand you and your experience and will listen to your story.
They will do a full physical exam with you. They will find what movements and tests provoke your pain (we call these key signs) and which relieve your pain. They will test different treatments, retesting your key signs to confirm or deny their own theories.
They will help you understand what is causing your pain and why, with an initial plan for how to take care of it.
They will work with you to ensure you have the best and most doable plan in place. They will regularly follow up with you and actually be invested in your progress.
If your progress is less than desired, they will invest even more time into figuring out your case and doing what is best to help you.
The right clinician will NOT interrupt you regularly, be brazenly overconfident, guarantee they are going to cure you with a few maneuvers of the hands, or end the session without educating you on what is going on.
They will NOT try to force you into a huge treatment plan with vast numbers of visits.
They will NOT use imaging to try to scare you into doing anything. Imaging alone is never a good reason for any intervention. The physical exam and story you tell are much more informative when it comes to musculoskeletal pain.
They will NOT forget about you and never follow up and give you no guidance for what to do on your own. If you aren’t getting better, they will NOT rudely blame you as a bad patient.
Can you tell I hear about these problems all the time?
Let’s get you out of pain
At this point, you may feel a little downhearted or worried that you’ll never find the right person. But let it not be so! I write this to give you hope. If you’ve failed some therapy or multiple therapies before, don’t count yourself out.
You likely just need to find a clinician who fits the description I outlined above. Please. It may be a physical therapist, chiropractor, physician, or someone else. They exist, I know it.
The best way to find that person is to ask around. Ask your friend for the details of what their experience was like and what the clinician was like. Search for the experience that sounds like the right clinician and test them out for yourself.
If you want to test us against our own theory of the right clinician, we welcome it! You can schedule a free phone call with us below and test us for yourself. We’d love to help you get better and we’re ready to prove it.