Chiropractor vs. Orthopedist: How Do I Choose?

by | Jun 5, 2023 | 0 comments

6 min read

Ever found yourself nursing a sore back or a creaky knee and wondered whether to book an appointment with a chiropractor or an orthopedic doctor? It’s a common conundrum, one that can leave you scratching your head, especially when chronic pain is becoming your new not-so-welcome friend!

Understanding the difference between a chiropractor and an orthopedist is indispensable before you hit the road to recovery. Both chiropractors and orthopedic doctors have their own unique skills and specialties, and knowing which one is right for your condition will get you back on your feet faster.

Today’s article will clear up all that confusion! We’ll dive into the world of chiropractic and orthopedic medicine, shining a light on what sets these two medical professionals apart, and how to determine which one you should see for your specific condition!

What is an Orthopedist?

An orthopedist is a “specialist mechanic” for our bodies, more specifically for our bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles — all the stuff that helps you move, reach for things, or even do a little dance.

Orthopedic physicians are your go-to specialists if you’ve got a problem with your knees, back, hips, or any other part of your musculoskeletal system. They can help fix things whether the issue is congenital,has developed over time, or occurred due to an injury.

So next time you fall off your bike and break your arm, or your grandma says she needs a new hip, you’ll know exactly who to call — the orthopedist!


What are the Similarities Between Chiropractors and Orthopedists?

Chiropractors and orthopedists are like two sides of the same coin when it comes to treating issues related to our body’s structure. They both want to help you move better and relieve pain, but they go about it in different ways.

Both chiropractors and orthopedic doctors focus on your musculoskeletal issues. That means they’re looking at your bones, joints, muscles, and all the bits and pieces that help you move and groove in your daily life. They both diagnose and treat issues with these parts of the body, whether it’s a bad back, a sore knee, or a stiff neck.

Furthermore, they both believe in the power of non-invasive treatment avenues, helping you avoid going under the knife if possible. Instead, they will propose physical therapy, exercises, or other surgery-free treatments to help you heal!

But remember, an orthopedic doctor cannot replace a chiropractor, or vice versa, but they’re both indispensable in their own ways for keeping us all moving smoothly!

What are the Differences Between Chiropractors and Orthopedists?

Chiropractors and orthopedists seem like they’re in the same ballpark because they’re both dealing with issues affecting the musculoskeletal system. But, they’re actually quite different in how they approach these problems, the type of training they receive, and the treatment options they offer.

Educational Requirements

Let’s start with chiropractors. After earning a bachelor’s degree, which often emphasizes sciences like biology or chemistry, they head off to a chiropractic school for four years of specialized education.

The first couple of years often look like what medical students go through — lots of classroom and lab work in anatomy, physiology, and biochemistry. The second half is more about getting hands-on clinical experience under supervision, learning to assess patients, make diagnoses, and of course, perfect those spinal adjustments. Once all that’s done, they have to pass national board exams to get licensed and start a chiropractic practice.

Orthopedic doctors, on the other hand, follow the traditional MD route. After getting a bachelor’s degree, they spend four years in medical school: half in the classroom and labs, studying subjects like anatomy, pharmacology, and pathology, and the other half in clinical rotations.

After graduating, they’re officially medical doctors, but the journey doesn’t stop there! They have 

to complete a five-year residency in orthopedics, where they really hone their skills in diagnosing and treating musculoskeletal conditions and performing surgeries. Some even opt for additional training in a fellowship to specialize further in sports medicine or spine surgery. And just like chiropractors, they have to pass licensing exams to practice.


Treatment Philosophy

Chiropractors are the gurus of spinal alignment. They believe that many health issues stem from misalignments in the spinal column, so they use their hands or special tools to perform adjustments, realigning the spine to relieve nerve pressure. They’re really into a holistic view of health, often advising on diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes along with their hands-on work. Plus, they usually work in outpatient settings, so you’ll often find them in private practices or wellness centers.

Orthopedists, on the other hand, are MDs who specialize in diagnosing and treating a broad range of issues related to the bones, joints, tendons, ligaments, and muscles. They can handle everything from fractures and dislocations to arthritis and osteoporosis.

Orthopedic doctors have the ability to perform surgery and prescribe medication, something chiropractors can’t do. They also work in a variety of settings like hospitals, specialized clinics, and private practices.

To summarize, if you have a musculoskeletal problem, a chiropractor is likely to adjust your spine and help you adopt lifestyle changes. An orthopedist, though, might suggest surgery, prescribe medication, or recommend physical therapy. It all depends on the nature and severity of your issue. And of course, they often work together, referring patients to each other when needed!

When Should I See a Chiropractor vs. an Orthopedic Surgeon?

If you’re dealing with a musculoskeletal issue like back pain, neck pain, chronic headaches, or even joint pain, a chiropractor is a solid first stop. They focus on non-invasive treatments, mainly through spinal adjustments and other techniques to help your body heal itself.

But, if your pain is severe, persistent, or associated with numbness, weakness, or changes in bowel or bladder function, it’s wiser to seek an orthopedic surgeon. They have the training to diagnose complex conditions and can provide a wider range of treatment options, including medication, physical therapy, and orthopedic surgery, if necessary.

chiropractor vs. orthopedist

Looking for Excellent Chiropractic Care? Dr. Doerr is Here to Help!

At Bergen Chiropractic and Sports Rehabilitation Center, our chiropractic team, led by Dr. Gregory Doerr, adheres to the highest and most professional medical standards to provide superior chiropractic help. Our mission is to provide unparalleled patient care and services in a comfortable healing atmosphere. Access our contact form or call us at (201) 945-4075 to learn more about our chiropractic treatment services! Our chiropractic offices at 532 Anderson Avenue, Cliffside Park, NJ 07010, and 62 Summit Ave, Hackensack, NJ 07601, are ready to welcome you as we proudly serve New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, PA, and Baltimore, MD, areas. Also, feel free to access our blog, Facebook, and Instagram pages for more information on chiropractic treatments!



  1. “What Is an Orthopedic Physician? What They Do, When to See One, and What to Expect.” WebMD, WebMD, Accessed 15 May 2023.
  2. What an Orthopedic Surgeon Does and How to Become One, Accessed 15 May 2023.
  3. Kirkaldy-Willis, W H. “Orthopaedics and Chiropractic, a Close Relationship.” The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association, U.S. National Library of Medicine, June 2004, Accessed 15 May 2023.

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