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What do Chiropractors do?

An X-ray of the neck, including vertebrae.
Chiropractors correct spinal alignment.
Chiropractors offer spinal exams.
Chiropractors deal with issues relating to spinal vertebrae.
Chiropractors believe the neck often requires realignment because of daily stressors.
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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 21 October 2014
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On the spectrum of alternative medical treatments, the chiropractic profession falls very close to the mainstream end. Chiropractors receive recognized medical degrees from specialized schools, and their services are generally covered by health insurance if prescribed by a physician. Nevertheless, chiropractors spend an inordinate amount of time defending their profession from critics in and out of the medical field.

Chiropractors receive a general education on human physiology and biology, but their main focus is the spinal column. Chiropractors believe that the vertebrae of the spine and neck are routinely pulled out of alignment by everyday stressors, and these misalignments (called subluxations) can be the root cause of a myriad of physical and mental ailments. By physically manipulating individual vertebrae or readjusting the entire spine, chiropractors hope to relieve pressure caused by subluxations.

Chiropractors often generate business by offering free spinal exams to the public. During these examinations, basic measurements are taken to reveal any imbalances in spinal alignment. One shoulder may be measurably higher than the other, or one arm may provide more resistance to stress than the other. Sometimes, clients of chiropractors will stand on two scales to determine a heavier side of the body. Critics suggest that almost every human has some form of spinal imbalance but this is not necessarily an indicator of poor health.

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Chiropractic treatments can be said to fall somewhere between those provided by a trained spinal doctor and a physical therapist. The term chiropractic literally means 'through the hands', so much of what chiropractors do is hands-on manipulation or adjustment of the patient's spine and back. Special tables allow chiropractors to place patients in traction or compression. Sometimes the spine is 'popped' by applying pressure between each successive vertebrae. Other times chiropractors may use a twisting motion to put the neck vertebrae back into alignment.

Critics of the chiropractic profession point to all of this spinal manipulation as a potentially dangerous practice. These critics argue that almost all joints will generate a satisfying 'pop' as gases in the cartilage are released and that therefore the popping doesn't mean mean that the joint is more aligned than before the manipulation. Critics of chiropractic medicine also argue that neck vertebrae are especially vulnerable to fractures leading to paralysis thereby making the risks of serious injury outweigh the health benefits.

Chiropractors, however, adamantly defend their profession by pointing to the number of potentially dangerous services, such as prescription of drugs and performance of surgeries, provided on a daily basis by spinal surgeons and physical therapists. Chiropractors note that patients benefit from the long-term effects of spinal manipulations, not necessarily a one-time visit; and that physical manipulation of the spine and neck can be compared with deep tissue massage techniques, both of which purport to reduce stress and restore damaged nerve pathways. Chiropractors also point out that many health insurance companies cover their services, which means enough clients may benefit from chiropractic treatments to justify their expense.

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Discuss this Article

anon356895
Post 16

The industry as a whole is guilty of profiling the gullible and profiting from treatment that goes far beyond the necessary. That's natural all right -- a natural rip-off.

anon309996
Post 15

Chiropractic doctors in most states have chosen to restrict the use, prescription, and administration of medications. They have chosen not to prescribe - they leave that to the medical doctors. Why do you think chiropractors pay less than $2,000 year in malpractice insurance and medical doctors pay that much per month in malpractice insurance? That is because what they do is safer than prescribing someone medical drugs. Think about it: how many chiropractors do you read about killing their patients - as opposed to having over 100,000 prescription related deaths per year. Use your brain and think about it! It makes sense.

anon210890
Post 14

Chiropractic is the safest healing art. Dr.Visentin, D.C.

anon164808
Post 13

When was the last time you heard of someone dying from a bad reaction to medications, or a bad combination of prescriptions? Okay, now when was the last time you heard of someone dying because their chiropractor broke their neck?

Honestly, if chiropractors were that dangerous, don't you think you'd be hearing about a lot more law suits? As is, there probably have been some accidents, but they're very, very few and far between.

I agree with eastwest; western medicine doesn't favor natural prevention, because there's no gain in it. Sad, but true.

anon157340
Post 12

I think it promotes healthy living.

anon139106
Post 11

You also run the risk of having a stroke.

anon113543
Post 10

Chiropractic study is a joke. They claim everything from flu to cancer is caused by subluxations. There's a reason why they are not allowed to prescribe medicine, folks.

anon82774
Post 9

If you can find a chiropractor to provide your health insurance company with evidence based research on the effectiveness of Chiropractic and your migraines, they are pretty much obligated to pay.

anon63466
Post 8

Doctors don't want people to think going to a chiropractor is good because they will lose a lot of business. Prescriptions and medications is a billion dollar a year business.

Doctors are the real quacks. They never have any idea what is wrong with people and just give them medicine to mask their problem, not to get to the root of the problem and cure it like chiropractors can naturally.

anon59333
Post 7

Chiropractors are portal of entry providers and do not require a referral from an MD for a patient to seek care from one. Only when a patient has insurance requiring them to choose a primary care physician will they need a referral.

anon44512
Post 6

Try this peer-reviewed review article of several peer-reviewed and published research articles:

Lawrence DJ, Meeker W, Branson R, Bronfort G, Cates JR, Haas M, Haneline M, Micozzi M, Updyke W, Mootz R, Triano JJ, Hawk C. Chiropractic management of low back pain and low back-related leg complaints: a literature synthesis. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2008 Nov-Dec;31(9):659-74.

The Journal of Manipulative Physiological Therapeutics publishes numerous peer-reviewed articles from manual therapists (i.e. chiropractors, osteopaths, physical therapists, etc.).

anon27135
Post 5

anon19983

Do the research! There are tons of chiropractic studies that have proven its' effectiveness.

anon19983
Post 4

Why don't chiropractors put their methods to the test? Try a little scientific method, peer-reviewed studies. What is the chiropractic community afraid of?

eastwest
Post 3

Chiropractic is more preventative care than emergency care, generally, which makes it different than most Western medicine. If Western medicine wanted to PREVENT problems, they would cover things like chiropractic.

eastwest
Post 1

My health insurance will not cover any chiropractic treatment at all because they say that there is no proof that it works. However, going to the chiropractor once a month makes my migraine and tension headaches go away and they don't have to pay for treatment of those. Wouldn't it be more cost efficient to do the preventative treatment?

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