Physical therapists look for a cause as well as an appropriate solution for the patient. Although I can’t speak for most chiropractors, many often perform manipulations that offer temporary relief without addressing the underlying problem – causing the patient to return time and again for treatment of the same injury.
Although chiropractors and physical therapists both perform very similar hands-on techniques, such as manipulation of the spine, physical therapists also extend treatments to include stretching, strengthening, posture education and retraining, and massage.
The better chiropractors will actually refer some of their patients to physical therapists when appropriate because we have specialized knowledge of more effective treatments beyond simple spinal manipulation.
Massage therapists perform treatments to muscles – which has value. However, many massage therapists are not schooled in which muscles need to be released. Rather, a shotgun approach is frequently taken in working the entire body.
Many times, muscles do not need to be massaged as much as they need to be strengthened – or there may be a more complex issue at the root of joint stiffness. Working the muscles in these cases will not help the patient and wastes time and money.
I once had a patient who was visiting a massage therapist for treatment of lower back pain and was led to believe that his muscles were tight. I quickly realized after doing an examination on this patient that I could not help and referred him to his physician at once. I suspected cancer, and unfortunately, I was correct. :-(
Massage therapists simply do not have the medical knowledge necessary to make a proper causative diagnosis.