What is it?
Going to a chiropractor is a common occurrence nowadays. People do it in order to alleviate pain or discomfort, but what is chiropractic care all about? What is the purpose of a chiropractor and how do they accomplish their goals?
According to the American Chiropractic Association, chiropractic care is a health care technique that focuses on disorders of the musculoskeletal system and central nervous system, and the effects of these kinds of disorders on the overall health of the body. They focus on the spine and the way that it interacts with other systems in the body. They look for problems that occur due to ill health of the spine, and then use spinal manipulation to heal the spine and the body.
In short, chiropractors look at the spine, look for problems and then use their hands to correct these problems. Chiropractors believe that the structure of the human body is closely intertwined with healthy function. If bones, muscles, nerves, and joints are not properly aligned, a patient can suffer from various health issues and problems. Examples of these issues include pain, headaches, inflexibility, a weak immune system, and many others.
The nervous system controls all voluntary movement, such as speech and walking, and involuntary movements, such as breathing or blinking. The nervous system is the body’s main communication system and all input travels through the spinal cord to the brain and a response is sent back through the spine to organs. Therefore, in order for our body to function properly, chiropractic care believes our spine must be free of interference.
These “interference” is known as vertebral subluxation complex or just subluxations. When subluxations impact the nervous system, a wide array of symptoms can appear depending upon which area of the spine is subluxated and which nerves are being impacted. This explains why chiropractors can treat various conditions throughout the body with chiropractic adjustments.
Causes of subluxations include a bad posture, a fall, an accident, a strain, sport injuries and even through the process of being born. Some signs of subluxations are:
- Loss of proper motion
- Back pain
- Neck pain
- Joint pain
- Posture imbalance
- Muscle spasms
- Low energy
- Additional health issues
The following graphs, featured on Arrowhead Clinic, explain some of the conditions a patient can experience depending on what part of the spine the interference is located.
In 1895, D. D. Palmer, a magnetic healer, announced “Ninety-five percent of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae, the remainder by luxations of other joints.” Palmer claimed he had cured deafness on a janitor by using his hands to push a displaced fourth thoracic vertebra into alignment. Palmer founded the Palmer School of Chiropractic, where he taught his methods to the first chiropractors.
It was not until Bartlett Joshua Palmer graduated from his father’s school in 1902 that chiropractic became recognized. B.J. Palmer’s slogans and advertising strategies attracted many students to the Palmer School, by then named the Palmer School of Chiropractic. These early years of the profession brought about a great deal of tension between conventional allopathic medicine and this new approach. Statutes to practice chiropractic were not established until later, though many chiropractors defiantly opposed the medical statutes they regarded as an infringement of their rights and obligations to serve their patients. Until the 1960s, it was not uncommon for chiropractors to be jailed and fined for practicing without a license.
The more recent professional cooperation and mutual appreciation between chiropractic and conventional medicine lie in stark contrast to many years of discord. Cooperation and the collaborative care of patients are now quite common. Today, there are more than 70,000 active chiropractic licenses in the United States. All 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands officially recognize chiropractic as a health care profession. Many other countries also recognize and regulate chiropractic, including Canada, Mexico, Great Britain, Australia, Japan and Switzerland.
Benefits and uses
Whether you have a sedentary life or are an elite athlete, chiropractic care provides many benefits that can improve quality of life. The five main benefits one can expect from chiropractic pain are:
- Reduction in pain: multiple research studies have shown that there is not an easier and safer way to reduce pain than with chiropractic care. That goes not only for the spine, disc issues, pinched nerves and more but it also goes for extremity issues.
- Headache relief: chiropractic care can reduce the frequency and intensity of headaches. With over 20 million people suffering from headaches every day, it can become a huge help with this widespread symptomatic issue.
- Improved function and quality of life: clinical practice and published papers show that people who receive chiropractic care can expect to have improved functional mobility, which equals more quality of life.
- Less medication: a new study shows that if someone receives regular chiropractic care, he or she is 49% less likely to receive opioid prescriptions. With the current opioid epidemic plaguing thousands of people, using holistic ways to tackle pain is a no-brainer.
- Performance improvement: every major sports team has a chiropractor available to their athletes to help with injury prevention and sports performance. Working with the athletes on flexibility, biomechanics and range of motion is critical to raising the bar of performance.
Who practices it
Chiropractors typically graduate from an accredited chiropractic school. They do not have an MD or DO degree from a medical school; instead, they earn a D.C. (Doctor of Chiropractic) degree. Currently, chiropractic candidates do not need a bachelor’s degree before entering chiropractic school. However, many students do complete a bachelor’s program, and acceptance into a chiropractic program requires a minimum of 90 semester hours .
The chiropractic course is typically a total of four years, but some programs vary in length. The focus of the classroom coursework, like many other health careers, entails courses in the sciences such as anatomy, physiology, biology, biochemistry and pathology.
Licensed chiropractors usually follow five steps in becoming a licensed professional in their state:
- Earn an undergraduate degree: some chiropractic schools admit strong students who have completed two to four years of undergraduate work, but most prefer candidates with bachelor’s degrees. While chiropractic school don’t require a specific major, students should have a strong background in the natural sciences. A good rule of thumb is to take the same prerequisites required for medical school.
- Earn doctoral degree: chiropractors must earn a Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.) degree, which will usually require 4-5 years of study after undergraduate study. Chiropractic schools are accredited by the Council on Chiropractic Education. Students receive extensive classroom and lab instruction in anatomy, physiology, biology, nutrition, public health, among other topics. They also complete at least one full year of clinical experience, during which they care for patients under supervision.
- Consider doing a residency: in order to become board-certified in some chiropractic specialties (radiology or sports rehabilitation), candidates must complete a three-year residency or supervised clinical training program.
- Pursue additional specialized education as desired: there are several other levels of post-graduate study available to chiropractors, including certificate programs, three-year post-graduate programs and master’s degrees.
- Become licensed to practice in state: chiropractors must be licensed in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. This process is run by the state health department or a specific board of chiropractic examiners. All states require a completion of an accredited Doctor of Chiropractic program and a passing score on parts I through IV of the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners (NBCE) exam.
What to expect
When going to the chiropractor for the first time, it’s helpful to know what to expect at the visit. The more you know about what to expect, the better chances of having a good experience at the chiropractor.
The chiropractor will ask about the patient’s medical history and symptoms and will talk about:
- Reasons why the patient is going to the chiropractor.
- Past injuries.
- All medical conditions.
- Any medications taken.
- Any use of drugs or alcohol.
- Lifestyle habits including exercise, diet, stress and sleep.
The chiropractor may feel your spine, move joints and watch the way the patient walks. He or she will also test muscle strength, reflexes and range of motion. In some cases, the chiropractor might order x-rays or a blood pressure check.
- The patient will lie on a special treatment table for an adjustment.
- The chiropractor focus on the problematic area – usually neck of back – and move it to its maximum range.
- The chiropractor will give an extra thrust to make the adjustment.
- The patient may hear a popping sound, like the sound of cracking knuckles.
- The patient should not expect to feel pain during adjustment.
The chiropractor might give other treatment along with an adjustment. This could include heat or ice and a muscle massage.
The chiropractor might provide exercises to do at home and they also have training to help with diet and nutrition. Chiropractors do not prescribe drugs though they might recommend diet supplements or vitamins.
Most chiropractic treatments last for several weeks. The chiropractor may recommend having appointments as often as 2 or 3 times per week. Follow-up visits often are shorter than the first visit and last between 10 and 20 minutes. After a treatment, the patient may have some soreness in the area the chiropractor adjusted. If the pain continues or gets worse, the patient must notify the chiropractor.
- DCs treat over 35 million Americans, this includes adults and children, annually.
- Each day, over one million adjustments take place around the globe.
- There are roughly 100,000 doctors of chiropractic in active practice across the globe, and about 10,000 students are currently enrolled in chiropractic education programs in the United States alone.
- All 32 NFL teams have their own chiropractor to boost performance, maintain wellness and treat musculoskeletal strain and injury.
- Unbeknownst to many, infants can benefit greatly from chiropractic care.
There are many reasons to visit a chiropractor besides relief from neck and back pain. Chiropractic care is a safe, natural way to help the body learn how to heal itself. Chiropractic treatment isn’t so much a way of fixing physical problems as it is a way of allowing the body to perform the healing it already knows how to do.