Chiropractic care is an alternative healthcare approach that focuses primarily on disorders of the musculoskeletal system. Chiropractors use a hands-on approach to diagnose and treat problems that affect the nerves, muscles, bones and joints by mechanically adjusting the spinal column. Although spinal manipulation is the foundation of chiropractic care, chiropractors, who take a holistic approach to treatment, use many other types of therapy to relieve pain and restore mobility.
Chiropractors in North America can receive a Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.) degree, which typically requires four years of premedical undergraduate work, 4 years of chiropractic college, and 1 year of internship.
The primary reason a patient seeks chiropractic care is to relieve pain in the back or neck. Such pain, which may not be responsive to typical medical treatment, may respond well to realigning the subluxations (dislocations) of the vertebrae. Many patients also consult with chiropractors for help with the following:
For many patients, chiropractic care becomes an integral part of their lives; they report that it lessens stress, improves overall health and strengthens immune response.
At a first visit, a chiropractor usually takes a medical history, noting past illnesses and injuries, medications taken, and lifestyle habits, including those related to diet, exercise, sleep patterns and use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs. A physical examination is then performed, and the chiropractor evaluates whether chiropractic treatment will be helpful, and whether the patient has any conditions, such as severe osteoporosis, bone fractures, joint diseases or damaged blood vessels in the neck, that may contraindicate chiropractic care. Other diagnostic tests, including checking blood pressure and taking X-rays, may be performed.
While undergoing chiropractic treatment, which usually takes an hour or less, the patient lies on a table so the chiropractor can manipulate the spine. The chiropractor's movements can be gentle and feel like a massage, and/or be more abrupt as pressure is applied to correct spine misalignment. "Clicks" are occasionally heard, but this is normal and not dangerous.
Prior to, during or after some sessions, the chiropractor may use other techniques, including ultrasound or heat therapy, on the patient. Although some patients experience muscle soreness in the hours or days after an adjustment, it is short-lived. Patients often report that their pain has been lessened or relieved, and their mobility increased, after receiving chiropractic care.
Several treatment sessions are usually necessary to provide patients with long-term relief from symptoms. Most patients in acute pain visit the chiropractor 3 times a week for a few weeks, and then taper off to once a week, stopping only when their symptoms are gone. When pain is chronic, continued treatment, and periodic adjustments when acute episodes occur, may be required.