Chiropractic is an approach to health care that uses spinal manipulation to relieve pain. It is most often used for back or neck pain. It is sometimes used for headaches or for pain in the arms or legs.
Most doctors of chiropractic (chiropractors) take a natural approach to promoting health through lifestyle changes, nutrition, and exercise.
Many chiropractors have extra training in physical rehabilitation and specific exercise therapy. Some also use nutritional analysis, herbal therapy, and acupuncture.
What does chiropractic treatment involve?
Chiropractic treatments usually involve spinal manipulation. Spinal manipulation is a treatment that uses pressure on a joint of the spine. It is also called spinal adjustment. It is used to improve pain and function. Manipulation can be done with the hands or a special device. The careful, controlled force used on the joint can range from gentle to strong, and from slow to rapid. Sometimes other joints of the body are also worked on to help treat the spine.
The goal of chiropractic treatment is to increase movement in the joint and relax the muscles. Some chiropractors use heat, electrical stimulation, or ultrasound to help relax your muscles before doing spinal manipulation.
Other types of treatment may include:
- Heat or ice.
- Corsets or braces.
- Strength and conditioning exercises.
- Relaxation therapy.
Some chiropractors use X-rays to help diagnose conditions.
What to expect from your visit
If you've never been to a chiropractor before, you may be a little worried about what will happen. Visiting a chiropractor for low back pain is actually simple, safe, and usually painless. And a visit to the chiropractor results in relief for many people.
Your first visit will be a lot like a first-time visit to any new doctor. It's likely to include:
- A health history. You will probably fill out a long form of questions about your health. The chiropractor may also ask additional questions, such as whether you have headaches or migraines or sleeping problems. He or she may also ask you about your diet and your activity level.
- A physical exam. The chiropractor may check your posture, looking for things that aren't normal, such as one shoulder or hip that is higher than the other. The exam may also include a muscle test. This involves pressing an arm or leg against the chiropractor's hand to test strength. You may also walk a short distance so that the chiropractor can check how you walk or other arm or leg movements.
You may also have an X-ray of your spine.
When the chiropractor has all the information, it's time to sit down with you and talk about treatment. If the treatment plan includes spinal manipulation, you could have it the same day or at a later appointment.
What do spinal adjustments feel like?
The most familiar type of spinal manipulation is the hands-on approach: You lie on a table while the chiropractor uses his or her hands or a device to apply pressure to an area of your spine. Some people call this "cracking" your back because of the popping sound that is sometimes made. But nothing is actually "cracking." The sound happens when the tissues of the spinal joint in question are stretched.
Spinal manipulation normally doesn't hurt. If you're already in pain because of your back, it may hurt to move. But manipulation is aimed at making you feel better.
Some chiropractors use a drop table for manipulations. Parts of the table drop slightly when the chiropractor presses down on a patient's back. The table is noisy, but this method is actually very gentle.
Some chiropractors use a hand-held device called an activator to do spinal manipulations. This is also very gentle.
How to choose a chiropractor
Whenever you are looking for a health care provider, ask friends about who they do and don't like, and why. Check the background and education of providers you're interested in. It is sometimes helpful to have a visit to make sure you are comfortable with a provider's practice style.
Make your family doctor aware of your other providers and the treatments you are getting.
Current as of: March 2, 2020
Author: Healthwise Staff
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine