What Is It?
Chiropractic care primarily involves manual manipulation, which restores joint mobility, as a treatment option for musculoskeletal disorders and as a way to improve overall health.
The term "chiropractic" comes from the Greek language and means "done by hand." Chiropractic care primarily involves manual manipulation, which restores joint mobility, as a treatment option for musculoskeletal disorders and as a way to improve overall health. The spine is the primary focus, but manipulation can also be effective for other parts of the musculoskeletal system (MSS) such as extremities, including ankles, knees, hips, wrists, elbows, shoulders and ribs.
Chiropractors stress the importance of the relationship between the musculoskeletal system and the nervous system in regaining and sustaining health. Doctors of chiropractic—commonly referred to as chiropractors or chiropractic physicians—use adjustments, joint manipulation and other techniques to normalize spinal and neural function, relieve various disorders and promote your body's natural healing process. Chiropractic treatment involves neither drugs nor surgery, and most chiropractors will advise you to consult with another health care professional if your condition requires a different type of treatment or if co-management of your condition is appropriate.
Spinal manipulation has been practiced for thousands of years, and modern chiropractic care is more than a century old. Modern chiropractic was initially established by Daniel David Palmer, who was seeking a way to cure disease without using drugs. Palmer concluded that most disease results from spinal misalignment (a concept that has since been discarded in the light of new evidence) and that many ailments are caused by the vertebrae impinging on spinal nerves.
This impingement or blockage, he said at the turn of the 19th century, interferes with natural nerve transmission. He termed this condition "subluxation." Subluxation, he said, should be treated with manipulations or adjustments to properly align the spine and eliminate the interference, restoring nerve transmission and allowing the body to heal itself. Palmer, however, was open to new scientific findings, something that was unusual at the turn of the 19th century.
The First Visit
During your first visit, your doctor of chiropractic will complete a thorough examination that typically includes:
The chiropractor will most likely take a medical history and ask you to complete a questionnaire about yourself and your family. Tell your chiropractor about any injuries or surgery you have had. Your chiropractor especially needs to know if you have had a spinal fusion, fracture or dislocation. He or she also needs to know if your current condition has included bouts of dizziness, blurred vision or slurred speech.
The next step is a physical examination. In addition to general physical examination procedures such as blood pressure, pulse, respiration and temperature, the examination will include specific orthopedic and neurological tests to assess:
Depending on your condition, diagnostic studies can help diagnose conditions more accurately. The most common ones used by chiropractors include X-ray, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and laboratory tests.
Some chiropractors may want you to undergo a full spinal X-ray to identify subluxations, but this practice is controversial even among chiropractors. There are specific well-documented reasons for performing X-rays. A reputable chiropractor will X-ray only the patients who require it.
Feel free to question your chiropractor about the need for X-rays in your case, about the percentage of patients X-rayed in his or her office or about any other diagnostic or treatment procedure that is unclear to you. If there are indications of gross spinal problems obviously relating to structural abnormalities, such as scoliosis (a condition in which the spine is abnormally curved), a full spinal X-ray may be needed to show the more complete postural picture.
The combination of the medical history, examination and diagnostic studies will allow your chiropractor to reach a specific diagnosis, which will help the doctor of chiropractic determine whether your condition or pain may respond to chiropractic care.
The chiropractor should explain:
• the diagnosed condition
• the recommended treatment plan
• the anticipated length of care
If your chiropractor determines that your condition would be more appropriately treated by another health care professional, he or she will make the proper referral. Your treatment plan may also involve collaborative care with other health care providers, such as your primary care physician, a physical therapist or a neurologist.
Chiropractic care is not—and does not claim to be—the appropriate primary treatment for infections, cancer or chronic conditions like high blood pressure. This doesn't mean that if you have these conditions, you shouldn't visit a chiropractor. It simply means that these particular diseases or conditions also need treatment from a traditional medical health care professional.
A chiropractic appointment generally takes 15 to 30 minutes, but your first visit will last an hour or so, since the chiropractor will take time to discuss and record your health history, perform other preliminary procedures, make a diagnosis and develop a treatment plan. You may or may not receive treatment on your first visit.
Your doctor of chiropractic will adapt the treatment plan to meet your specific needs. The chiropractor most often uses his or her hands to manipulate the joints of the body, particularly the spine, to reduce pain and restore or enhance joint function, but in some instances, a device (called an activator) is used. The adjustment generally consists of an expertly designed movement to the joint. You'll most likely hear a popping sound—similar to the cracking of your knuckles. This should not cause any pain and often produces immediate relief.
Other treatments may also be used including therapeutic ultrasound, electrical muscle stimulation, ice and heat, traction (including a specific type of traction referred to as spinal decompression), soft-tissue massage and rehabilitative exercises.
Heat can help relax muscle spasms and relieve chronic pain; ice reduces inflammation and swelling.
Ultrasound involves the use of high-frequency sound waves on soft-tissue injuries. The sound waves penetrate and may warm tissues deep in the body. Electrical muscle stimulation uses an electric current to reduce pain and muscle spasm. The chiropractor may also recommend a regimen of at-home exercises.
The extent and duration of the patient's problems coupled with the hands-on nature of the chiropractic treatment may require numerous visits. Your doctor of chiropractic should tell you how long you can expect the treatment to last. Treatment may involve several visits a week for two or three weeks or more. Chiropractic care is usually most effective (especially for low-back symptoms) in the first few weeks. If you don't feel like the treatments are working after a few weeks of receiving them, you should report this to your chiropractor.
What It Will Feel Like
With the popping, you will probably feel a sense of relief. A few patients report experiencing some muscular soreness or mild discomfort, particularly if the body is tense or if the surrounding muscles are in spasm. Don't worry if you are sore after an adjustment—it's perfectly normal and usually can be relieved by putting a cold pack on the sore area. But if the pain continues more than a day or two, you should call your chiropractor. He or she may need to change your treatment. Many people say they feel relaxed and exhilarated after an adjustment—and that's also normal.
Potential side effects of chiropractic depend on the type of treatment used, as well as the duration and severity of the problem, and may include temporary headaches, fatigue and soreness in the area that was manipulated. The chances of serious complications, such as stroke, are extremely low. However, there have been some reported cases of paralysis, blindness and, very rarely, even death following chiropractic care. The American Chiropractic Association stresses that when an adverse reaction does occur, it is often the result of the procedure being performed by someone inadequately trained in spinal manipulation, rather than by a licensed chiropractor.
Facts To Know
1 Chiropractic care does not involve drugs or surgical treatments.
2 Chiropractors are licensed in all states, but the licensing requirements vary slightly.
3 Usually, it's best to approach your care with an attitude of cooperation. However, a sound, logical approach to your care should be key to your acceptance of any recommendations of care by any practitioner.
4 The term "chiropractic" comes from the Greek words "cheir" and "praktkos" meaning "done by hand."
5 Chiropractic therapy is based on the notion that the body, properly aligned and maintained, can often heal itself.
6 Chiropractors stress the importance of the relationship between the musculoskeletal system and the nervous system in regaining and sustaining health.
7 Many chiropractors take a holistic approach and will probably talk to you about your work, health, exercise and nutrition habits, seeing them as part of your overall health.
8 Chiropractic care is usually most effective early on in the process. If you don't feel like the treatments are working after a few weeks of receiving them, you should report this to your chiropractor.
9 With a properly trained and licensed chiropractor, the chances of adverse side effects are extremely low.
Questions To Ask
Review the following Questions to Ask about chiropractic so you're prepared to discuss this important health issue with your health care professional.
1 Which kinds of conditions can chiropractic effectively treat? Which conditions are not helped by chiropractic therapy?
2 What is the diagnosis and what is your suggested treatment plan?
3 How does spinal manipulation work?
4 How many treatments will I need? How long should I expect to receive care?
5 Do you expect this treatment to solve my problem in the long term?
6 Are there any side effects to the proposed treatment? What symptoms should I report to you, if I experience any?
7 When do you refer patients to medical doctors or other health care professionals?
8 Are you willing to discuss my condition with my primary health care physician?
9 Can you suggest exercises I can do at home to enhance treatment?
10 Do you accept my health care coverage?