Choosing chiropractic care can help you find pain relief and may even save you money. Let’s learn more about what chiropractic care is, what chiropractors do, and what conditions are treated.

What Is Chiropractic Care?

Chiropractic care is a form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). It is well established in the U.S., Canada, and Australia. Chiropractic is the third largest health profession, behind medicine and dentistry. Further, most insurance carriers cover chiropractic expenses.

Chiropractic care is focused on the assessment and treatment of pain symptoms of the musculoskeletal and nervous systems. Generally, chiropractic care is concerned with conditions such as:

Chiropractic care is concerned with the potential detrimental effects that these conditions can have on an person’s overall health.

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What Are The Benefits Of Chiropractic Care?

There is a mounting body of evidence that shows favorable results to the effectiveness of chiropractic care. Various studies have shown support for the safety and efficacy of chiropractic treatment compared to other pain treatments. This includes invasive surgery and the use of prescription medication.

The primary goal of chiropractic care is to improve patient outcomes by providing cost-effective and safe treatment for the relief of debilitating pain symptoms. Research has found that chiropractic care has the following benefits, compared to conventional treatment options:

  • Decrease in medication use
  • Quicker patient recovery times
  • Less patient disability
  • Significant improvement in pain symptoms
  • Significant improvement in physical activity tolerance

What Is A Chiropractor?

Chiropractors are highly specialized health care practitioners who typically receive doctorate-level training prior to becoming licensed. Masters-level training is available for students who do not wish to complete the doctorate-level program. Chiropractic curriculum consists of a variety of training methods including courses, seminars, and hands-on clinical training. The clinical training that is part of the chiropractic curriculum includes the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of a variety of pain conditions.

After the completion of their training, chiropractors are able to provide evidence-based recommendations in terms of a suitable treatment plan, in addition to rehabilitation exercises. Furthermore, individuals who are enrolled in a chiropractic program have the option to participate in a course that is focused on nutrition. Therefore, many chiropractors have excellent nutrition knowledge. They can make lifestyle recommendations that include diet and exercise modifications that may help to improve patient outcomes.

In the United States, all 50 states offer a licensure for chiropractic care and extensive literature has suggested that it is one of the largest alternative health care professions. Chiropractors perform over 90 million chiropractic adjustments every year, according to recent estimates. Estimates have suggested that approximately one in three individuals who have suffered with back pain have seen a chiropractor for management of their condition.

While in some cases chiropractic care is the primary treatment intervention, it can be added as a complementary treatment in cases where other interventions are considered the primary intervention. Many people regard the chiropractic profession as a leader in terms of providing a non-invasive treatment option to improve patient outcomes. We discuss some more specifics about this history of the chiropractic care profession and how you can become a chiropractor later on in this post.

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What Does A Chiropractor Do?

The American Chiropractic Association states that the primary philosophy of the chiropractic profession is to provide patients with healthcare that is effective and of a high quality by using conservative and natural treatment interventions. Chiropractors place an emphasis on the body’s ability to naturally heal itself after an injury without the need for medication or invasive treatment options, including surgery.

Chiropractors generally take a systems-approach to each of their patient cases. They believe that understanding the underlying structure and function of the spine and how it interacts with various systems within the body, including the neurological system and musculoskeletal system, is the key to understanding injury and disease. According to chiropractors, in order for the body to function optimally, a natural balance and flow needs to be maintained.

An example of this “balance,” which has been documented in various studies that shows the integration of systems within the body, is the relationship between poor posture and the incidence of cervical and lumbar pain. This example stresses the importance of striving for a thorough understanding of the body system interactions as they relate to a patient’s pain. By understanding these relationships, an accurate diagnosis can be made after a complete assessment is performed, which will help to develop an appropriate treatment plan, helping to achieve optimal patient results.

What Is A Chiropractic Adjustment?

Chiropractors have access to a variety of different types of treatment for chronic pain; however, the most commonly used treatment is manual therapy. Manual therapy is also referred to as spinal manipulation, manipulation therapy, or chiropractic adjustment. Dr. Nicole Kibler explains what a chiropractic adjustment is in the video.

Chiropractic care primarily involves adjustments that help to correct the internal structural alignment of the body. Targeted and controlled forces are then applied to specific joint areas. Chiropractors focus the applied forces on the areas within the body that are restricting or limiting movement. These joints are referred to as hypomobile joints, and are often the result of tissue damage.

A number of issues have been associated with tissue damage and many of them occur from participating in regular everyday tasks. For example, tissue damage can occur after being in an awkward position for a prolonged period of time. This is especially true if the individual has poor posture. These activities increase the risk of developing tissue irritation and inflammation, which can lead to acute and potentially chronic pain.

Acute and chronic pain can both be debilitating and can have a negative impact on an individual’s daily activities. The goal of manual therapy is to correct the underlying damaged tissue as well as the surrounding joints, in an effort to decrease muscle tightness, increase range of motion, promote tissue healing, and reduce pain.

Additionally, it is believed that spinal manipulation can help to improve overall body functioning and restore the individual to their state of functioning prior to the episode of pain. Although discomfort is rare following a chiropractic adjustment, some patients do report mild achiness or soreness following treatment. This discomfort is generally quite mild and usually resolves within 12 to 48 hours after the adjustment.

What To Expect Before Your First Chiropractor Visit

When an individual initially consults a chiropractor, the appointment will begin with a detailed health history. The chiropractor will ask questions related to the individual’s personal health history as well as their family’s health history. They will also ask a number of questions related to the patient’s current pain episode, including various questions addressing the location of pain, mechanism of injury, onset of symptoms, palliative and provocative factors, quality of pain, radiation of pain, severity of pain, previous treatment, and any other questions that they feel is relevant to the patient’s current pain. The detailed history will help steer a chiropractor toward determining the underlying cause of an individual’s symptoms.

After the history, the chiropractor will proceed to conduct a physical exam. During the physical exam the chiropractor examines the alignment of the patient’s spine and extremities and looks for structural abnormalities. They will also palpate various structures. The physical exam may also include a variety of other procedures including muscle testing, sensation testing, reflex testing, and orthopedic testing. X-rays may be ordered to identify any musculoskeletal abnormalities.

Following a thorough history and exam, the chiropractor can usually determine the source of a patient’s pain.

Types of Chiropractic Care

Chiropractors are concerned with the biomechanics, structure, and function of the spine along with its effects on the musculoskeletal and nervous systems and what they believe to be its role in health and disease. Most assert that the spine and health are fundamentally related, and that this relationship is mediated through the nervous system. In addition, most endorse conservative management of the neuromusculoskeletal system without the use of medicines or surgery.

Chiropractic treatment primarily involves manual therapy, including manipulation of the spine and other joints, soft tissue therapies, rehabilitative exercises, health promotion, electrical modalities, complementary procedures, and lifestyle counseling.

The chiropractor may also employ certain diagnostic methods including skeletal imaging, observational and tactile assessments, and orthopedic and neurological evaluation. As in other branches of healthcare, a chiropractor may also refer a patient to a specialist or co-manage a patient with another health care provider.

A term heard often in chiropractic care is “subluxation.” The World Health Organization’s (WHO) definition of chiropractic vertebral subluxation is:

“A lesion or dysfunction in a joint or motion segment in which alignment, movement integrity, and/or physiological function are altered, although contact between joint surfaces remains intact. It is essentially a functional entity, which may influence biomechanical and neural integrity.”

The chiropractic subluxation is not necessarily large enough to be perceptible on imaging studies such as X-rays. It therefore differs from the common medical definition of a spinal subluxation which, according to the WHO, is a “significant structural displacement” that is visible on X-rays. One of the chief goals of chiropractic is to correct subluxations, which is thought to reduce pain and improve overall health.

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Chiropractic Care Techniques

Chiropractors are trained in a variety of manipulation techniques, including:

  • Direct thrust (diversified technique): This is the most recognized technique that is used by chiropractors. It involves using a high velocity and low amplitude thrust, applied by the hands, directly to the spine. Patients often hear a cracking or popping sound during this type of adjustment. The goal of this technique is to release restricted joints, thereby restoring normal joint functioning and range of motion.
  • Articulatory: Many injuries that are sustained by individuals include impairments to articular (joint) motion. This technique involves applying a force that has a low velocity and moderate to high amplitude, which helps to guide a joint through its full range of movement. The goal of an articulatory technique is to restore normal joint range of motion by counteracting joint stiffness by using manual manipulation.
  • Indirect positional technique: This is a passive technique that is used to release hypertonic muscles in an effort to restore full joint range of motion. For this technique, the joint is held in a neutral position, and a force is then applied. This technique may also use pressure with the intention of lengthening muscle tissue.
  • Functional technique: This technique involves applying a gentle force to the joint in an effort to release joint restriction. During this technique even if a slight restriction is felt, the joint is held in the position where the restriction was felt until it is released.
  • Muscle energy: This technique involves using isometric movements, as opposed to thrusting, to restore normal range of motion. This technique is considered an active technique, as the patient must participate in the application of force against a restrictive barrier. The force is consistently applied for a period to time and is followed by a period of relaxation. This procedure is then repeated in a slightly different position until no further range of motion improvements are detected within the affected joint.
  • Myofascial release: This technique involves stretching the fascia tissue that has excess tension and rigidity. The chiropractor locates high-tension areas and then applies a light pressure until the area relaxes.

Conditions Treated By Chiropractic Care

While chiropractors have the ability to treat a variety of conditions, there are limits to their scope of practice. Chiropractors are equipped to treat a variety of neuromusculoskeletal conditions including:

  • Back pain, including lower back pain
  • Neck pain
  • Migraine headaches, sinus headaches, and cluster headaches
  • Arthritis
  • Intervertebral disc syndrome
  • Sciatic nerve pain
  • Scoliosis
  • Cervical spine pain
  • Thoracic spine pain
  • Lumbar spine pain
  • Temporomandibular joint disorders
  • Muscle spasm
  • Tendinitis
  • Thoracic outlet syndrome
  • Pinched nerves
  • Numbness, tingling, weakness, and pain in the upper and lower extremities
  • Pain and dysfunction in the upper and lower extremities
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Tarsal tunnel syndrome

It is also widely recognized that chiropractors trained at the doctorate level have the knowledge to manage and provide adequate care for a variety of non-neuromusculoskeletal conditions. Non-neuromusculoskeletal conditions that are commonly treated by chiropractors include allergies, asthma, digestive issues, and otitis media (ear infection).

In addition, research is now focusing on the effectiveness of chiropractic care for the management of various other medical conditions. The results of ongoing research may reveal promising information to individuals suffering from chronic medical conditions that are not responding to other conservative treatment options.

Chiropractic Care For Back Pain

It has been estimated that up to 84% of adults will suffer from some type of back pain during their lifetime. Even more disturbing is that the relapse rate of individuals with back pain is incredibly high with some evidence suggesting that up to 78% of individuals will have a reoccurrence of back pain at some point in their lifetime.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that back pain has been linked to significant disability and is believed to be the underlying source of various detrimental impacts on an individual’s functioning in both their personal and professional lives. Half of all people working in the U.S. admit to having back pain symptoms each year, and back pain is the second most common reason for visits to the doctor’s office, outnumbered only by upper-respiratory infections.

Furthermore, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has estimated that back pain costs approximately $50 billion each year in the U.S. Back pain is considered a leading contributor to missed time from work, and is the leading cause of employment-related disability. Moreover, back pain is believed to decrease work productivity and increase health care utilization. Over the last decade there has been a significant increase in the amount of research attempting to identify factors that can influence prognosis for back pain sufferers. Additionally, there have been a number of randomized control trials investigating the efficacy of various treatment options that are available.

You can learn more about back pain in the following video.

Anatomy Of The Spine

The vertebral column is found on the dorsal region of the torso and is the body structure that is usually referred to as the spine or backbone. In the human body, the vertebral column consists of 24 individual vertebrae and nine fused vertebrae. The vertebral column is divided into different regions, including the sacral, lumbar, thoracic, and cervical regions. The sacral curve is located at the bottom of the vertebral column and is formed by four coccygeal vertebrae that form the tailbone and the sacrum.

The lumbar curvature is made up of the five vertebrae that lie superior to the sacral curve. Superior to the lumbar curve is the thoracic curve which includes 12 vertebrae and forms the mid to upper back. At the top of the spine is the cervical curvature, which includes seven vertebrae that form the neck. The vertebrae are made of boney tissue, which contains the centrum. The boney tissues and centrum make up the main body of the vertebrae. There are also a number of arches that protrude from the centrum of the vertebrae.

The vertebral column is found on the dorsal region of the torso and is the body structure that is usually referred to as the spine or backbone. In the human body, the vertebral column consists of 24 individual vertebrae and nine fused vertebrae. The vertebral column is divided into different regions, including the sacral, lumbar, thoracic, and cervical regions. The sacral curve is located at the bottom of the vertebral column and is formed by four coccygeal vertebrae that form the tailbone and the sacrum.

The lumbar curvature is made up of the five vertebrae that lie superior to the sacral curve. Superior to the lumbar curve is the thoracic curve which includes 12 vertebrae and forms the mid to upper back. At the top of the spine is the cervical curvature, which includes seven vertebrae that form the neck. The vertebrae are made of boney tissue, which contains the centrum. The boney tissues and centrum make up the main body of the vertebrae. There are also a number of arches that protrude from the centrum of the vertebrae.

The spinal cord

Within the vertebral column is the spinal cord. The spinal cord is a long bundle of nerves that transmits information to and from the brain. It runs from the cervical region (occipital bone) through to the area between the first and second lumbar vertebrae. It primarily functions to transfer motor information, control motor movements, conduct sensory information, and control various reflexes.

The spinal cord is a critical component of the human body. The vertebral column, as well as various specialized layers of tissue known as the meninges, protect the spinal cord. The meninges also provide protection for the brain. The meninges consist of various layers the pia mater, the arachnoid mater, and the dura mater. The dura mater, sometimes called the “tough mother” due to its’ Latin translation, is tough and relatively rigid. It is responsible for providing protection from injury to the spinal cord and brain, and helps to hold in cerebrospinal fluid.

The epidural space

The epidural space is another critical area, especially when discussing pain management therapies. This space is found in the outermost area of the vertebral canal. It is located just outside of the dura mater and contains various components including lymphatics, fatty tissue, blood vessels, and spinal nerve roots. The epidural space runs from the occipital region to the tip of the sacrum and is often used as an area for the delivery of medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). This area is commonly used because of its’ span, which allows the medication to be delivered to a wide area, often helping to relieve widespread pain due to irritation and swelling.

Nerve roots

The nerve root refers to the area where the nerve leaves the central nervous system. There are two types of nerve roots: the cranial nerve root and the spinal nerve root. Nerve roots can be the primary source of pain if they become irritated or inflamed. Nerve root damage can also lead to muscle weakness or a partial loss of movement (paresis), or complete loss of movement (paralysis). These individual components can be implicated as the primary source of an individual’s acute or chronic pain.

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Treating Back Pain With Chiropractic Care

The most common reason people seek chiropractic treatment is for low back pain. Although back pain can be caused by certain serious conditions such as inflammatory arthritis, infection, fracture and cancer, most cases of back pain are mechanical in nature. Mechanical means the source of the pain may originate from the spine or surrounding tissues, including spinal joints, discs, vertebrae, or soft tissues, which can become damaged, irritated, and inflamed. According to the Cleveland Clinic, a specific trauma or strenuous activity may cause mechanical back pain; however, 80% of the time, the specific source of the pain is not found.

Chiropractors must possess a thorough knowledge of the various components of the spine in order to understand pain in regards to how it originates, how it progresses, and how each type of pain is different. This knowledge provides chiropractors with a solid foundation to understand the various relationships within the different systems of the human body. They are able to develop individualized treatment plans using this knowledge that helps to provide optimal treatment outcomes for patients.

Chiropractors rely on clinical assessments that consist of taking a detailed medical history, conducting a thorough physical examinations, and potentially ordering X-rays in an effort to identify the cause of an individuals’ pain. Once the source of back pain is determined, chiropractors use manipulation of the affected joints to help restore normal joint function and mobility, and to enhance the body’s healing process. Other types of treatment interventions that chiropractors may use include soft tissue therapy, stretching, cold or hot compresses, electrical stimulation, as well as diet and exercise modifications.

Benefits Of Chiropractic Care For Back Pain And Neck Pain

Results of various studies have suggested that patients with cervical spine pain who are treated with chiropractic care have a 75% reduction in their pain symptoms at 12 weeks compared to when using medication. In addition, the pain relief benefits experienced by patients receiving chiropractic care was maintained at a one-year follow up.

Furthermore, one control trial examined the efficacy of spinal mobilization in patients with chronic neck pain, compared to either general practitioner care (e.g. medication, supportive counseling, and education) or physiotherapy (e.g. primarily exercise). The results showed that patients who received spinal mobilization reported a faster recovery and less pain at a 26-week follow up, when compared to the other treatment options. However, the differences in recovery time and reported pain levels were not apparent at the 52-week follow-up.

In addition to providing pain relief for individuals suffering with cervical spine pain, chiropractors can provide effective care for patients suffering with lumbar spine pain. In one recent study, patients suffering with lumbar spine pain that were treated with chiropractic care had greater relief of their pain at four weeks compared to patients who received care from their primary care physician.

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Chiropractic Care For Injuries

Many injuries that are commonly sustained by individuals can be successfully treated with chiropractic care.

In the U.S., motor vehicle accidents are responsible for the majority of injuries sustained each year. For injuries that are related to motor vehicle accidents, including whiplash and chronic pain, the symptoms may appear weeks to months after the accident. Chiropractors also see a variety of other injuries caused by workplace accidents, slip and falls, and heavy or repetitive lifting.  Many sports injuries, including rotator cuff injuries, iliotibial band syndrome, and plantar fasciitis, can also be successfully treated by chiropractors.

Chiropractors are trained to treat a variety of pain conditions. It is commonly believed that chiropractors primarily focus on the treatment of acute and chronic pain, however, they are also trained to provide treatment and education for the prevention of pain.

Chiropractic Care For Other Pain Conditions

In addition to treating musculoskeletal conditions, chiropractors can help individuals who suffer from various other medical conditions. Infants and the elderly may be appropriate candidates for chiropractic treatment if they suffer from a chronic medical condition.

Chiropractors are trained to provide treatment that may provide partial or full relief of symptoms caused by the following conditions:

  • Asthma
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Colic
  • Otitis media
  • Fertility disorders
  • Frequent colds or flus
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Equilibrium disturbances
  • Menstrual conditions
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Respiratory infections

Are Chiropractors Safe?

Chiropractic care is a safe alternative treatment for many types of pain conditions, especially those that originate in the musculoskeletal system. The risks associated with chiropractic care are minimal and serious complications are very rare. In order to minimize the risk of side effects and complications, patients should ensure that their chiropractor is highly trained and adequately licensed to provide chiropractic care.

Risks that are associated with chiropractic care include:

  • Discomfort or soreness after the manipulation
  • Disc herniation
  • Nerve compression in the lumbar region, typically resulting in pain, numbness, or weakness of the lower extremities, and a loss of bowel or bladder control
  • Stroke

In order to reduce the risk of serious complications, patients should tell their chiropractors if they have a history of serious medical conditions including osteoporosis, instability of the spine (spondylolysis or spondylolisthesis), spinal cancer, radiculopathy, or if they are on blood thinners.

If an individual has significant risk factors for suffering from side effects from chiropractic care based on their medical history, their chiropractor will recommend other types of treatment that may help to relieve their symptoms. These alternative treatments may include such things as soft tissue therapy, cold and hot packs, modalities such as ultrasound or electrical stimulation, and exercise. Additionally, the chiropractor may refer an individual to another healthcare practitioner if they feel that another practitioner may provide more effective care for their condition.

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The History Of Chiropractic Care

Chiropractic manipulation is one of the oldest treatment methods that is still currently used. Manipulation for therapeutic benefits has been documented in ancient Chinese literature, and has even been identified within Egyptian hieroglyphics.

The history of formalized chiropractic care dates back to before the 19th century. Many people believe that chiropractic care emerged in September 1895. It was reported that Daniel David Palmer performed the first chiropractic manipulation on this date. Since 1895 there has been an abundance of anecdotal and empirical evidence regarding the efficacy of chiropractic care; the results of this evidence has varied widely. Chiropractic care has been the subject of much skepticism, and has even been described as a “pseudoscientific” or “mystical” profession by the mainstream medical community.

Chiropractic care began to emerge as a specialty around the turn of the 20th century. The field of chiropractic medicine was operating from the framework of practicing a skilled craft, rather than an art. This was particularly true in rural parts of the United States. At this point, empiricism and evidence-based treatment had not fully filtered into the chiropractic field. The Flexnor Report was published in 1910 and this publication changed the way the medical field operated. The Flexnor Report was the culmination of results from a large study that examined the medical education of 155 medical schools across the U.S. and Canada. This report called for changes in training programs and licensure in health care programs.

How To Become A Chiropractor Today

After the Flexnor Report was published, health care training programs became more selective with their admission requirements. Additionally, the program curriculum has become increasingly more rigorous. Two organizations oversee the standardization of the training programs: the World Health Organization and the American Chiropractic Association.

Students must complete a minimum of 90 credit hours of undergraduate level science courses before they can enter a chiropractic training program. They can then complete one of three different chiropractic-training paths:

  1. One to four years of prerequisite training at the undergraduate level in basic science followed by four years of full-time doctorate level chiropractic education. At the completion of this path, students receive the designation of Doctorate of Chiropractic, or D.C.
  2. Five years in a combined bachelor and masters level program. At the end of this path, students receive a Bachelor of Science in Chiropractic.
  3. Two to three years of masters level education followed by the completion of a bachelor degree. At the end of this path, students receive a Masters of Science in Chiropractic.

These training programs require a minimum of 4,200 curriculum hours. These hours are obtained through classroom study, as well as laboratory classes in addition to supervised clinical training. Chiropractic students are required to complete 1,000 hours of supervised clinical training, which is part of the total curriculum hours that need to be obtained. For students who wish to obtain their Doctorate of Chiropractic designation, further requirements include passing state and national board licensing exams. After a student completes the training program and licensing exams, individuals holding a doctorate of chiropractic are regarded as physicians in numerous states within the U.S.


Chronic pain conditions have become a serious public health concern in the U.S. Estimates have suggested that the majority of adults in the U.S. will experience an episode of chronic pain at some point. When looking at the treatment of chronic pain, there are a variety of treatment options available to patients. These treatment options include over-the-counter and prescription medication, chiropractic care, corticosteroid injections, and surgery. Chiropractic care is considered one of the safest and most cost-effective alternative to prescription medication and surgery.

Chiropractic care is a safe and effective treatment for a number of pain related conditions. To find out more, talk to your pain specialist or a chiropractor. You can talk to a certified chiropractor by clicking the button below to schedule an appointment.

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