If you’ve spent any time going through our healthcare system, you’ve likely noticed the alphabet soup that happens after many healthcare professionals’ names; MD, DO, RN, LPN, RD, PT, DPT, DC, and so on. Obviously, the most recognizable is the MD which stands for “medical doctor”, followed closely by DO which stands for “Doctor of Osteopathy” (trivia fact: DO’s and DC’s were, originally, very similar in their style of practice which is why some DO’s still perform manual manipulations on their patients).

If you have ever suffered from back or neck pain, or a number of other common physical conditions, you may have been referred to a DC which stands for “Doctor of Chiropractic”. So, what do these two letters mean, actually? Why can’t your MD do what a chiropractor does and vice versa? Here are three ways a Doctor of Chiropractic differs from a Medical Doctor.

Education. Chiropractors and medical doctors possess different knowledge and skills sets. Therefore, although they have a familiar similar background in the basic sciences (anatomy, physiology, etc.), their educations begin to diverge as their training progresses. Whereas an MD will receive a considerable amount of instruction in the use of pharmaceuticals, a DC spends a significant portion of their education learning more about physical medicine, such as orthopedics, adjusting procedures, and exercise rehabilitation. Another way that their education differs is that a DC will complete their clinical requirement in their last year of school with the option to extend that internship past graduation whereas an MD will do the clinical portion after medical school.

Scope of Practice. A health care professional’s scope of practice defines what each professional is qualified to do. For instance, a dentist’s scope of practice is limited to treating conditions of the teeth or a physical therapist’s scope of practice is limited to physical rehabilitation, generally speaking. An MD/DO have the widest scope of practice which is why they treat a majority of conditions that people suffer from. They are allowed to perform surgeries and prescribe medication. A DC has a very limited scope of practice because their primary focus is treating the spine but they can also treat most musculoskeletal disorders. In fact, some insurance carriers classify them as specialists under their plans. Some chiropractors can and do use nutritional supplements to aid in recovery and to improve the health of their patients.

Philosophy. Chiropractors are taught to look at the whole body as one unit composed of many parts and when something affects one area, it can have an effect on many different areas. For instance, when you have shoulder pain, a chiropractor may look at the mechanics of the feet, in addition to the shoulder, because of the interconnectivity of the body and how much influence one area can have on another. A medical doctor, on the other hand, would examine a person with shoulder pain and conclude the shoulder is also the source of the problem because that is where it hurts. This is just a general example and in no way is meant to say that all chiropractors or all medical doctors treat patients like this.

These are just a few of the differences between a DC and an MD/DO. The important thing to remember is that just because they are different does not mean that one way is better than another. Just like taking care of your automobile requires different types of mechanics, so does your body. You wouldn’t take your car to a brake shop to get your transmission fixed, would you?

Say you have high blood pressure from being overweight. Your best course of action would be to go to a registered dietician for help with your diet, your MD/DO to prescribe medication to help control your blood pressure until you lose some weight, then you could visit a personal trainer to help with exercise. Lastly, you would visit a chiropractor to help with the aches, pains, and to keep you moving optimally as you work on getting healthy.

Chiropractic care is a great way to supplement your normal health routine, as well as support any medical care you are receiving. The best results come when healthcare professionals work together to get a patient better faster and back to living a healthy life.

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