Chiropractors do more than crack your neck and back. The profession is focused on whole-body healing. Here's what you can expect when you visit a chiropractor.
The word "chiropractic" comes from the Greek words meaning "hand" and "practice." This hands-on therapy is designed to support your body's ability to heal itself.
The field has been around since 1895, when a Canadian American named Daniel David Palmer performed the first adjustment in Davenport, Iowa. Palmer is considered the founder of the profession.
Today, about 35 million Americans see a chiropractor each year. Most are looking for relief from back or neck pain, but chiropractic offers other wellness services.
Chiropractic includes a range of treatments to correct spinal alignment, reduce pain, improve range of motion, and promote healing.
The adjustment (also called spinal manipulation) is the treatment for which chiropractors are best known. Using their hands or special instruments, they manipulate your spine and other joints to correct your body’s alignment.
Some chiropractors also use other treatments, such as:
- Heat and ice
- Exercise and stretching
- Muscle relaxation
- Electrical stimulation
- Nutritional supplements
- Advice on diet and other lifestyle factors
What conditions do chiropractors treat?
Most people see a chiropractor for neck pain, lower back pain, or headaches. Other conditions include:
- Arthritis and other joint pain
- Muscle aches
Does chiropractic work?
Research on chiropractic is limited. The best evidence is for low back pain. A review of 15 randomized-controlled studies showed that spinal manipulation modestly improves low back pain and function.
For migraine and neck pain, the treatment doesn't have enough benefit to make it worth trying, according to the authors of one review.
What to expect during a chiropractor visit
Your first visit is a chance for your chiropractor to learn more about your symptoms and health history. In addition to doing a physical exam, your chiropractor might take x-rays or other imaging scans to look closely at your joints. Based on your condition and the results of those tests, you'll get a treatment plan tailored to you.
During the adjustment, you'll lie face-down on a special table. Your chiropractor might elevate certain sections of your body, using his or her hands or small instruments to apply quick bursts of pressure to your back and neck. The movements help realign your spine.
You might hear some pops during your adjustment. That's the sound of gases like oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide being released from your joints. The popping isn't harmful, and it shouldn't hurt. It's similar to cracking your knuckles.
Will insurance cover the cost?
Most health insurance plans will cover the cost of a chiropractic visit that is considered medically necessary. Contact your insurance company for details on its coverage.
Are there any risks?
The most common side effect of a chiropractic manipulation is mild soreness. You might feel like you would after an intense workout. Some people feel tired or get a mild headache. These symptoms should be temporary.
Rarely an adjustment can cause more serious side effects, such as:
- A herniated disk
- Pinched nerves in your spine
- A stroke caused by small tears to arteries in the neck
Who should avoid chiropractic?
Check with your primary care doctor before visiting a chiropractor if you:
- Have nerve damage in your arm or leg
- Were diagnosed with cancer
- Have severe osteoporosis
- Are at higher risk for a stroke
- Are pregnant
What you can do
Chiropractic treatment is no different from other types of healthcare. It's important to find a qualified practitioner who you trust.
You might start with asking your primary care doctor for a referral. You can also ask friends or family members about a chiropractor they like. You can search for a practitioner in your area on the American Chiropractic Association website.
A few questions to ask any prospective chiropractor include:
- How long have you been practicing?
- Which technique(s) do you use?
- Will you work with my primary care doctor?
- Do you take x-rays?
- What other services (besides adjustments) do you provide?
May 08, 2023
Janet O'Dell, RN