What is Chiropractic, and What do Chiropractors do?
Chiropractic is a system of healthcare concerned with the relationship between the structure (primarily the spine) and function (primarily coordinated by the nervous system) of your body and how that relationship affects your health.
Your entire body is under the control of your nervous system. When your structure (spinal and extremity joints) is not working properly due to slight misalignments and areas of restriction (subluxation), you may experience less than optimal function (health). Subluxation can impair the body’s ability to adapt to its environment and can lead to impaired patterns of movement and abnormal wear and tear on joint surfaces. Subluxation can also cause alteration in the normal transmission of information through the nervous system from the brain to the body and back again.
Chiropractors – or Doctors of Chiropractic – utilize a drug-free, hands-on approach to health care that relies on the chiropractic adjustment as the main form of treatment rather than drugs or surgery. The chiropractic adjustment is a specific force applied in a precise direction to a joint that is not moving properly through its normal range of motion. That’s what we as chiropractors call subluxation. Another way to think about this type of joint restriction is to think about a door. In order to be a properly functioning door, the door must be able to open fully, swing through the full arc of movement, and close fully. If the door is stuck in an open position, stuck in a closed position, or will only move about 15 degrees somewhere in the middle… it’s not a fully functioning door, is it? Neither is a joint that can’t go through its full range of motion.
Subluxation and tissue injury can be caused by a single traumatic event, such as the improper lifting of a heavy object – or through repetitive chronic stresses, such as sitting in an awkward position for a long time or general poor postural habits. If anyone has worked long hours in front of a computer without taking a break, you know what I mean. In either case, the injured tissues undergo physical and chemical changes that can cause inflammation, pain, and diminished function. Adjustment of the affected joint and tissues restores mobility, thereby alleviating pain and muscle tightness, and allowing the tissues to heal.
The body has the innate power to heal itself if properly cared for and allowed to function without interference. The ability of this innate healing power depends on your body being properly supplied with appropriate levels and types of exercise, nutrition and rest as well as the removal of subluxations and other irritations from your system (such as foods, beverages and personal care products that you don’t tolerate well).
The chiropractic adjustment is most commonly delivered using the hands of the chiropractor, but may occasionally be performed using the assistance of instruments. There are many techniques available to fit the needs of the individual patient, including low and no force techniques if indicated.
What kind of training and certifications do
Doctors of Chiropractic must meet rigorous educational standards to ensure that they are well trained to serve as primary care providers. The degree a Doctor of Chiropractic earns is a DC degree, much like a Doctor of Osteopathy earns a DO degree or a Medical Doctor earns an MD degree. To be granted admission at a chiropractic school, you must have completed the prerequisite undergraduate coursework including Anatomy and Physiology courses, General and Organic chemistry, Physics, Biomechanics and Kinesiology. Often, there are other additional undergraduate requirements such as communications, writing and psychology. Once admitted to chiropractic school the rigorous curriculum entails more than 4,300 hours of lecture, lab and clinic time. If you are interested in more information regarding the specific educational requirements to become a chiropractor, please visit the curriculum overview and outline sections on the Northwestern Health Science University website.
In addition to meeting the educational requirements of the particular school a chiropractor attends, she must then pass five National Board examinations before being considered eligible for licensure. Yearly continuing education requirements must be met by the Doctor of Chiropractic to maintain licensure for the remainder of her years in active practice. There are additional areas of training for chiropractors to pursue that offer certification and diplomate status including (but not limited to) pediatrics, neurology, and nutrition.
Do I need a referral from a Medical Doctor to seek chiropractic treatment?
No. In the state of Minnesota, chiropractors are classified as primary care providers and as such are portal of entry health care providers. Doctors of Chiropractic have broad diagnostic skills and will refer you to other types of health care practitioners if your history and exam findings suggest you need additional care or co-management.
Does Getting Adjusted Hurt?
Chiropractic adjustment rarely causes discomfort. However, patients may sometimes experience mild soreness or aching following treatment (similar to some forms of exercise) that usually resolves within 12 to 48 hours. Applying ice to the area of soreness can help minimize discomfort (using a barrier to protect the skin, of course). Typically the more the patient can relax and receive the adjustment, the less likely that patient will experience soreness. If you feel yourself beginning to tense up before being adjusted, your chiropractor may give you a breathing pattern to follow or have you wiggle your toes to help you relax.
How long is a typical office visit?
The length of time a chiropractic office visit takes can vary greatly from practitioner to practitioner. At my practice, Back In Body at Spark Wellness, the first visit is typically about an hour in length. You will have a thorough history taken, an exam performed that includes orthopedic and neurological screening tests as well as ranges of motion and a hands on examination of your spine and any other areas of complaint. If there is a need for imaging, x-rays will be referred out. The findings of the exam will be discussed with you and baring any concerning exam results you will receive some muscle work and your first chiropractic adjustment at the clinic during that first visit.
Typical visits after the initial intake will vary based on your unique presentation and goals. Visit increments are available in 15 minute intervals and include muscle work, adjustments, lifestyle recommendations and reassessments of exam findings occasionally to note progress.
Is Chiropractic Care Safe?
Chiropractic care has an excellent safety record. One of the easiest ways to examine the relative risk of chiropractic treatment is to compare malpractice insurance rates of chiropractors to other health care professionals. Chiropractors’ malpractice premiums are a small fraction of most medical doctors’ premiums. For more information on the safety and efficacy of chiropractic, check out the American Chiropractic Associations webpage.
Can I adjust myself?
No. Since a chiropractic adjustment is a specific force, applied in a specific direction to a specific joint, it is next to impossible to adjust yourself correctly and accurately. It is possible to turn, bend or twist in certain ways to create a “popping” sound that sometimes accompanies a chiropractic adjustment. Unfortunately, this type of joint manipulation is usually counterproductive, often making an already unstable section of the spine even more unstable. Self adjusting and adjusting by untrained friends and relatives can also be dangerous. Adjusting the spine is best left to the professionals! Even your Doctor of Chiropractic must seek out the care of a colleague to be adjusted because she cannot adjust herself.
I heard if you go to a chiropractor you have to keep
coming back forever… is that true?
You are the President and CEO of your health… no one else is. You only have to utilize chiropractic care as long as you want to experience the benefit of it. Your chiropractor may suggest a treatment plan for you based on your presentation that will give you the best results, but you are free to choose when and if you want to continue care.
Chiropractic care is like “orthodontics for the spine”. Clinically, repeated chiropractic adjustments re-train the vertebrae, muscles, and ligaments to their proper alignment and range of mobility. Just as the amount of time required for braces to achieve correction depends on the condition of your teeth and mouth structure, the time required for proper spinal alignment to occur depends on the condition of your spine, your job duties, hobbies, posture, and many other lifestyle factors.
You are free to choose to utilize care as often as you like, but it is unreasonable to expect that the issue that brings you in (and has been potentially years in the making) will be resolved by one visit. This is like thinking that seeing the dentist once will provide you with good oral health for the rest of your life – or that working out once will provide you with the sustained level of fitness that you desire.
To quote Madonna, we live in a material world… and as such our bodies are subject to the same maintenance needs as all material things if we desire to function at our best for the longest amount of time possible. You maintain your car to ensure its best function for as long as possible… and you can buy another car. You can never buy another body.
In order to obtain the best long term results, it is important to follow the treatment plan that your chiropractor develops just for you. This may involve “front loading” with more frequent visits at first, then tapering the frequency of care off. Throughout your treatment plan your Doctor of Chiropractic will perform periodic re-evaluations and outcome assessments to measure your progress.
Is chiropractic care addictive?
It is possible to get used to feeling more balanced, less stressed, and more energetic as a result of regular chiropractic care. Under chiropractic care, you may develop enhanced body awareness so that you may be able to feel when your alignment has been compromised before you begin to feel pain. This makes it possible to avoid the pain – flare-up cycle that may require more frequent treatments at first to bring you back to your baseline. You may find that while chiropractic is not addictive, good health is.
Is a good work-out the same as getting adjusted?
No. Exercise is an important part of good health, but without normal function of your spine and other joints, a physical workout merely puts additional wear and tear on the improperly functioning joints.
Can a person who has had back surgery see a
Yes. As with any patient, your history and exam will dictate the appropriate methods of treatment to be used or if there are any areas of your spine that perhaps should not be adjusted. It’s an unfortunate fact that up to half of those who had spinal surgery discover a return of their original symptoms months or years later. They then face the prospect of additional surgery. Chiropractic may help prevent repeated back surgeries. If chiropractic care is initially utilized, back surgery can possibly be avoided in the first place.
Is it OK to see a chiropractor if I’m pregnant?
Not only is it “okay” to see a chiropractor if you are pregnant… it is a very important time to see a chiropractor. There is no other time in your life that your body undergoes such dramatic biomechanical changes in so short of a time period. These rapid changes as well as the presence of the hormones relaxin and elastin make pregnancy a very important time for you to be checked for subluxation. You may find that chiropractic adjustments improve the way you feel during pregnancy and may make your birthing time shorter and easier for you and your baby due to maintaining optimal pelvic position and function. As always, adjusting methods are adapted to your specific presentation. For more information on chiropractic care during pregnancy, as well as chiropractic care for children, check out the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association website.
Does chiropractic “work” for all types of health
Of course not! No one type of therapeutic intervention has it all… however, chiropractic care is very helpful when dealing with a wide variety of health problems from the more typical neuromusculoskeletal complaints to other issues not necessarily considered “back” problems. With a normal nerve supply the body’s natural healing capacity can function at its best and provide help for a variety of health problems.
Chiropractors will readily refer you to the appropriate health care provider if chiropractic care is not suitable for your particular condition, or more commonly when your condition warrants co-management with other members of your health care team. It is up to you to discover what combination of therapies and activities keep you feeling your best!
Martha DeSante DC, CYT