What’s the Difference Between An Orthopaedic Physician and a Chiropractor? Part One

Orthopaedic & Spine Center

Image of Dr. Mark McFarland, DOMark W. McFarland, DO

As an orthopaedic surgeon, I’m often asked about the differences between what I do and what a chiropractor does. We both see patients for a lot of the same conditions and often refer patients to each other when recommended care or treatment is outside of the scope of what we do.  As a result, there’s quite a bit of crossover. We have similarities and differences, which I’ll outline in this article.

I’d like to mention that there is a chiropractic specialty called chiropractic orthopedists. This means a chiropractor has completed certain requirements and educational standards of the Academy of Chiropractic Orthopedists. To maintain these credentials, the doctor participates in continuing education to keep current with the latest advances in the orthopedic specialty. Compared to a chiropractor who doesn’t carry the accreditation, these doctors have additional knowledge and training in orthopaedics. Their exposure to orthopaedics isn’t as extensive as an orthopaedic surgeon’s training.

How are we similar?

Both chiropractors and orthopaedic physicians are highly-educated medical professionals. Each of us complete undergraduate work, followed by years of advanced study at an accredited college or university. Orthopaedists complete four years of undergraduate study, four years of medical school, one year as an intern, and four years of residency studying the fundamentals of orthopedic surgery. In addition, many doctors choose to complete a one-year fellowship in a sub-specialty. Training to become a chiropractor requires two to four years of undergraduate education (depending on the state), a four-year chiropractic program, a clinical internship and passing scores on national and state exams before licensure.

Both chiropractors and orthopaedic physicians see patients to relieve them of discomfort caused by musculoskeletal issues. We each want to help rehabilitate patients to improve their quality of life. We see people who suffer from a myriad of conditions:

Chiropractors also see patients for other conditions which are not typically treated by an orthopaedist: chronic headaches/migraines , allergies, asthma, Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ), muscle tightness and stiffness, general stress.