Looking for pain relief? Find answers to some of our patient’s (and we’re guessing your) most frequently asked questions about visiting a chiropractor. Since 1895 when D.D. Palmer first successfully adjusted a patient suffering from a cardiovascular illness, chiropractic care for pain has been a weapon in the arsenal for treating chronic pain. For many people, finding a great chiropractor to help with their pain can be a lifesaver. Whether utilized as a first-line treatment or as a part of a holistic pain management plan, chiropractic care has been proven effective for a variety of pain conditions.
1. What is a chiropractor?
According to Spine-Health.com, at their most basic level, a chiropractor is:
“A health care professional focused on the diagnosis and treatment of neuromuscular disorders, with an emphasis on treatment through manual adjustment and/or manipulation of the spine.”
Of course, as medical professionals, chiropractors are much more than that. Chiropractors are highly-trained doctors who emphasize treating the patient in a holistic way. They incorporate therapies that can benefit both physical and mental health. As ExploreHealthCareers.org notes, chiropractic “is a health care discipline that emphasizes the inherent power of the body to heal itself without the use of drugs or surgery.” It’s this focus that often makes chiropractors a trusted part of a pain management treatment plan.
Chiropractors work with, rather than against, traditional medical interventions. Chiropractors, along with your whole pain management team, look at treatments that will be most effective with the least amount of artificial intervention in the form of surgeries or prescriptions. They believe in the power of the body to heal itself and work to keep everything in proper balance. For chronic pain management, this means looking first to the foundational structure of the body, the skeleton, making sure it is aligned and properly functioning before moving forward.
2. What is chiropractic care?
3. Are chiropractors doctors?
Doctors of chiropractic (DC) are highly trained medical doctors who complete specialized training culminating in a series of four board examinations and completion of state requirements.
There are approximately 77,000 DCs practicing in the U.S., with another 10,000 chiropractic students working towards degrees in 18 accredited chiropractic schools across the country. Doctors of chiropractic complete a minimum of 4,200 hours of classroom study, laboratory work, and internships, the equivalent of the number of hours spent for an allopathic doctor (MD) or an osteopath (DO).
Every year, 2,500 graduating students enter the workforce as doctors of chiropractic, either joining an established practice or starting a practice of their own. Doctors of chiropractic treat an estimated 27 million adults and children annually in the U.S. and are on staff of all 32 teams in the National Football League (NFL).
However, there are differences between chiropractors and physicians, one of which is prescribing medication. Diffen.com gives a greater breakdown of the differences between chiropractors versus physicians.
4. What is the history of chiropractic care?
This engaging video gives a brief introduction to the history of chiropractic care.
5. What does a chiropractor do?
Chiropractic care focuses on the restoration of spinal alignment. There are two basic treatment philosophies. Those who study the Palmer method of chiropractic believe that chiropractic care is the only treatment that patients need for any condition, from the flu to back pain. Other doctors of chiropractic believe that chiropractic care is part of an integrated approach to wellness that includes diet, exercise, and traditional medicine when needed.
The most common kind of chiropractic treatment is referred to as spinal manipulation therapy (SMT) or a chiropractic adjustment. In this type of work, doctors apply controlled force in a very specific way to restore mobility in the joints. Sometimes the patient will hear a popping noise as the spine is adjusted, but this is no cause for alarm. Small pockets of air trapped in the joints cause this popping noise, similar to what one might hear when cracking the knuckles.
Chiropractic treatment is hands-on, drug-free, and complex. Doctors will take a detailed health history, including family history and details of the current injury if applicable. After taking health history and answering any questions the patient might have, doctors may also recommend X-rays or an MRI to confirm that chiropractic care is appropriate. If a patient is experiencing loss of strength or lack of reflexive response, a chiropractor may refer the patient to a spine surgeon to get more information before beginning treatment. Once all of these steps are complete, treatment can begin.
6. Are chiropractors useful?
Mounting evidence proves that chiropractic care is one of the most effective treatments, especially for patients with back pain. Here are just a few of the latest research findings regarding the effectiveness of spinal manipulation.
- A person who seeks chiropractic treatment after an injury to the lumbar (low back) region of the spine before seeking treatment with an allopathic doctor is much less likely to have spinal surgery.
- In a study published in The Spine Journal, researchers reviewed 699 studies of spinal manipulation treatments as compared to other types of treatments that included exercise, medication, mobilization, and sham (placebo) treatments. Researchers found that five to ten sessions of spinal manipulation therapy over two to four weeks was just as effective as other treatments, if not more, in the majority of studies. Unlike other treatments in the studies, there were no side effects reported for spinal manipulation.
- A large-scale consumer survey carried out by Consumer Reports found that chiropractic care outperformed all other treatments for back pain. This includes outperforming traditional prescription medications in managing pain.
- Researchers from the University of Florida found that patients who received spinal manipulation experienced less pain as a direct result of their treatment.
Chiropractors are a very useful part of a pain management team. Learn more about even more cutting-edge chiropractic research in our other post on the subject.
7. Does chiropractic work?
In short, yes. Chiropractic care for pain can be a non-invasive treatment option for any of the above injuries. There have been numerous studies that indicate that chiropractic care is a great way to approach many different pain conditions.
Neck pain and back pain are the two pain conditions best served by chiropractic care, especially when combined with other treatments.
One study found rapid improvement of neck pain over physical therapy, medications, and surgery alone. This study is notable for its size and the scientific validity of its approach. Another study looked at successful treatments over a year and found that chiropractic care worked better than physiotherapy and general practitioner care.
For lower back pain, the most common pain condition addressed with chiropractic care, there are many different studies that indicate that it works. One study that focused on military veterans found that chiropractic care decreased pain and improved function better that traditional treatments of lower back pain alone.
Another study found that those patients who used chiropractic care for pain had a 90% reduction in pain over four weeks, much higher than traditional medical care (56%).
8. Are chiropractors safe?
Chiropractic care is safe, effective, and generally free of side effects. In fact, recent studies have shown that patients with back pain have a higher chance of more serious side effects (including gastrointestinal bleeding) when taking over-the-counter (OTC) non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen.
As Mayo Clinic notes: “Chiropractic adjustment is safe when it’s performed by someone trained and licensed to deliver chiropractic care.” It’s important to find a chiropractor near you who is appropriately-trained and comes with great credentials. We discuss how to find that chiropractor in a later section in this post.
There has been some concern over the technique of high-velocity neck manipulation and its connection to a certain type of stroke, but research has since proven that this stroke is more often connected to an activity that occurred prior to the patient seeking chiropractic treatment. Injury to the vertebral artery as a direct result of high-velocity neck manipulation is extraordinarily rare, occurring in only one case out of every 5.85 million manipulations. Because of this, however, it’s generally recommended that patients with an increased risk of stroke or severe osteoporosis avoid chiropractic care.
9. Are there chiropractic adjustment side effects?
Traditional, more interventional, treatments like surgery can have serious side effects that are long-term. With chiropractic care, the side effects, if any, may be a bit of soreness that is usually gone within a day. Typically, side effects may include minor soreness at the area of treatment. Mayo Clinic also reports that some patients may experience headache or fatigue following the procedure.
Conservative care as a whole–a theory that is at the foundation of chiropractic care–strives to offer treatments such as chiropractic care and other exercises or treatments that have few or no side effects for patients. Then the healthcare team can gauge their effectiveness to manage the pain condition. If little progress is seen, then and only then will a doctor who practices conservative care begin to tap into more traditional treatments.
10. How many chiropractic sessions do you need?
The answer to this question depends mainly on the patient, and his or her pain condition. However, as Spine-Health.com reports:
“Good chiropractors do everything in their power to help their patients feel better as fast as possible with as few chiropractic treatments as necessary, ultimately reducing care to an as-needed follow-up plan. They also give advice on how to avoid future problems by evaluating lifestyle activities, ergonomics, posture, orthotics, and/or diet.”
During your first consultation with a chiropractor, ask them about their estimate for a treatment plan upfront. A good chiropractor will work with you to make sure that you get the care you need, without the added expense of unneeded visits.
11. How much does a chiropractor cost?
The cost of care is an important aspect of pain treatments, especially when that treatment is long-term. A claims analysis of all of the fully insured patients with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee found that patients who initiated care with a doctor of chiropractic rather than an allopathic doctor had 40% lower paid-for costs (the costs that come directly from a patient’s pocket).
Further, as we noted in our post on recent research into chiropractic care: talking to a chiropractor first often results in more affordable and more successful treatments:
“A recent study of 719 patients who first initiated contact through a Swiss telemedical service found that talking to a doctor of chiropractic first not only saves money but is also as effective as more traditional treatments. Researchers administered a questionnaire to spinal, hip, and shoulder pain patients who called the telemedical service for advice. Of the study participants, 403 saw regular medical doctors and 316 saw chiropractors. Patients seeing medical doctors first had significantly higher medical costs and significantly lower reduction in pain than those who chose chiropractic pain management.”
12. Why should you choose #Chiropractic1st?
Due to the lower cost of chiropractors, both in terms of money and the effects that opioid use can have on pain patients, the American Chiropractic Association chose the theme of #Chiropractic1st for October’s National Chiropractic Health Month. As they noted:
“With government agencies and respected health organizations beginning to recognize and promote the use of nonpharmacologic options for chronic pain, it’s important for the public to understand that chiropractic services are an important first line of defense against musculoskeletal pain and may in some cases lessen or eliminate the need for over-the-counter and prescription painkillers.”
13. How can I find a chiropractor near me?
For more information on how to find a good chiropractor or a chiropractor near you, check out our post on the subject: “How To Find A Chiropractor Near Me.” In that post, we discuss how to use family recommendations and review websites to find a chiropractor you can trust. We also suggest using sites like PainDoctor.com to find a list of certified pain doctors and chiropractors in your area.
14. How can you become a chiropractor?
If you’re interested in becoming a chiropractor, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has detailed information about the training requirements for becoming a chiropractor. They also note how much chiropractors make in terms of salary and current job outlook data. Professional associations that have more information include the International Chiropractors Association and the American Chiropractic Association. Also check out The American Chiropractor magazine for more information.
15. What are common chiropractic techniques?
Now that we’ve discussed some of the most common questions about what chiropractors are, let’s discuss what they do. While chiropractors use a wide range of techniques and tools, we discuss some of the most common ones below.
16. What is a chiropractic adjustment?
A chiropractic adjustment is the general term that describes a chiropractor’s use of force to manipulate the spine and reduce subluxation. It’s also known as a chiropractic manipulation, manual manipulation, or spinal manipulation. Dr. Nicole Kibler discusses how a chiropractic adjustment is performed in this live demonstration.
17. What is the direct thrust technique?
This is the main technique of chiropractors. In this technique, a chiropractor will use their hands to apply high velocity force to align the spine. This means that they will take a portion of your spine (like your neck) and quickly move your neck to one side (applying high velocity force). Some people may say they are going to have their “back cracked,” and this is what they are talking about. This technique increases range of motion by releasing the bones or joints that are misaligned and thus restricting movement.
18. How does a chiropractor use articulatory techniques to relieve pain?
The doctor uses low velocity force to move the joint frequently through its range of motion in an effort to increase the range of motion. They may stand at the feet and move the ankles in circles, trying to increase the range of motion over time by properly moving the joint.
19. What is the functional technique?
This chiropractic technique applies direct pressure to the restricted joint to encourage it to release. When resistance is felt, the doctor will stay at that level of pressure until the joint resistance releases.
20. How do chiropractors use muscle energy to relieve pain?
This is an isometric technique that involves the patient in a more active role. The patient is asked to resist or apply force in the opposite direction of the chiropractor, holding it for a few seconds, and then releasing. This is repeated through the entire range of motion of a joint until the joint is no longer restricted.
21. What is a myofascial release?
All of the muscles of the body are covered in a thin layer of tissue called the fascia. Myofascial release encourages this tissue to stretch and release. Chiropractors identify areas of muscle where there is stress and tension and then apply pressure until the tension releases.
22. What is the indirect positional technique?
In this technique, the joint is held in a neutral position to relax the surrounding tendons and muscles, and then force is applied to achieve a full range of motion.
23. What does a chiropractor treat?
A chiropractor can treat a wide variety of conditions, but to begin, chiropractors will evaluate the patient based on a variety of factors that include family history, current activity, the nature of the injury and its interactions with other previous injuries, and the amount of support a patient needs. This gives chiropractors a better idea of how to proceed.
From there, chiropractors can help relieve pain due to the following conditions.
24. How do chiropractors relieve pain from injuries or accidents?
Starting with the most obvious category, accidents and injuries may be what most people envision when they think about chiropractic. Because pain from an injury may take several weeks to manifest, the chiropractic patient interview is crucial to determine possible causes.
Common injuries or accidents treated by chiropractic are:
- Injuries due to lifting
- Sports injuries
- Illiotibial band syndrome (ITBS, sometimes called “runner’s knee”)
- Injuries to the rotator cuff
- Plantar fasciitis
- Injuries due to car accidents
25. How can chiropractors treat pain from muscoloskeletal issues?
Subluxation, the misalignment of the vertebrae, is a common source of pain and inflammation for those who seek chiropractic care. One of the main causes of this misalignment is also one of the easiest to fix: sitting. Today’s workers sit during the majority of their day, and the lifestyle in the U.S. has become more sedentary. Add in poor posture and lack of core strength, and the spine begins to slump into itself, or over on itself, causing pain. Sitting properly even seems painful, and this can send a person to the chiropractor for relief.
This subluxation also causes quite a few ancillary conditions that can be relieved with proper chiropractic treatment. Some of these conditions include:
- Migraines and cluster headaches
- Painful muscle spasms all over the back
- Weakness in the arms and legs
- Stiffness and pain in all regions of the back
- Discomfort standing for long periods of time
- Pain in the neck
Subluxation when combined with the increasing amount of work done on computers can also cause tarsal or carpal tunnel syndrome. Chiropractic care may be able to treat both conditions. Other than pain, symptoms of this condition include varying degrees of numbness and tingling in the hands and fingers, plus stiffness and “locked” joints in the wrists and fingers.
26. What other conditions can be treated by chiropractic care?
Chiropractors may also be able to help relieve pain or symptoms related to:
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Fertility issues
- Ear infection
- Frequently occurring colds or the flu
- Gastrointestinal syndromes
- Multiple sclerosis
- Thoracic outlet syndrome
- Loss of equilibrium
- Intervertebral disc syndrome
- Temporomandibular joint disorders
- Respiratory infection
- Menstrual disorders (e.g., pre-menstrual syndrome)
27. Can I get chiropractic care during pregnancy?
Chiropractic care during pregnancy actually can have a lot of benefits for both the mother and baby. As we discussed in our post, chiropractic care during pregnancy can help:
- Give the baby room to grow and prevent breech presentation
- Relieve back pain
- Reduce the time of labor and delivery
- Bring the mother’s body back into alignment after delivery
28. What does a chiropractor for lower back pain do?
Lower back pain is the most common type of back pain in the U.S. There is no single condition that causes pain in the lower back. Compression of the lumbar spine is one of the most common uses of chiropractic care for pain. This compression may occur due to chronically poor posture that results in a C-shaped curve in the lumbar spine. Also known as lordosis, this C-shaped curve can become chronic and painful.
Spinal stenosis another condition that can cause lower back pain. It is due to the narrowing of the spinal column that can occur as a result of age-related gravity, injury, or illness. This narrowing can pinch nerves in the spinal column, causing pain.
Chiropractic care for spinal stenosis and lower back pain focuses on lengthening the spine and bringing space between the vertebrae. This can relieve the pain and pressure on the nerves. In conjunction with exercise, chiropractic care for compression of the lumbar spine can help realign the spine to restore the natural inward curve of the lower back.
29. What does a chiropractor for neck pain do?
The six vertebrae of the cervical spine are delicate. We often tax these bones with our head-forward posture as we look down at computers and phones all day long. For every inch our head juts forward of our shoulders, eight pounds of additional pressure are exerted on the cervical spine. Neck fractures and compression can result in extreme, debilitating pain.
In addition to using previously discussed chiropractic techniques to relieve compression and pressure in the cervical spine, chiropractic care for neck pain can help patients understand what correct posture looks and feels like, preventing further injury.
30. What does a chiropractor for sciatica do?
Sciatica is less a pain condition and more a collection of symptoms that are described collectively by this name. Sciatica is caused when the sciatic nerve is compressed in the lower back. The sciatic nerve is the longest and widest nerve in the body, originating from the lumbar spine and running underneath the buttocks, down the hips, and all the way to the lower legs.
Sciatic pain can be sharp and shooting or burning. Other symptoms include weakness and paresthesia (pins and needles or a tingling sensation). Chiropractic care for sciatic pain can help lengthen the spine and relieve pressure on the sciatic nerve.
If you’re ready to get started on your journey to less pain, we encourage you to find a chiropractor or pain doctor near you today to discuss your treatment options.