Chiropractic is a system of manual manipulation that focuses on the idea that the bones of the spine can be manipulated in such a way that it can effect changes in the body. These changes are generally aimed at musculoskeletal pain issues. The more obscure and pseudoscientific division posits that chiropractic care can address systemic problems (i.e., asthma, cancer, erectile dysfunction, and mental disorders).
The Origin Story:
Chiropractic as a profession began in 1895 with a man named Daniel Palmer. Palmer was interested in metaphysics and electromagnetic healing practices. His foray into manual therapy originated when Palmer noticed that the spine of a deaf janitor seemed to be “out of place.” Palmer adjusted the man’s spine and claimed to restore the man’s hearing. Spinal manipulation was not an unknown treatment at the time, but Palmer was the first to develop an organized system and techniques to standardize the practice.
How does Chiropractic work?
This is somewhat complicated and does not have a clear answer. Currently, there are two (or more) camps of Chiropractic treatment.
The Palmer camp believes bones can become misaligned and cause an energetic blockage. Correcting these off-kilter joints with high-velocity compressions would allow energy to flow more freely and let the body heal itself from within. It also happens to produce a satisfying popping sound.
However, none of this is supported by evidence and the “energy” he referred to has no basis in biology.
This thought process is often expanded to allow chiropractic to “treat” illnesses like erectile dysfunction, infectious diseases, and some practitioners go as far as to say they can correct mental disorders.
None of those claims is backed by research and even anecdotal evidence is hard to find.
The other camp is more skeptical and is focused on the anatomy of the nervous system and what happens when a joint, ligament, tendon, or bone is cavitated (popped). They focus on the interaction with the nervous system and generally stick to treating pain and nerve complaints.
This camp has also proven to be far more helpful to their patients and have both research and evidence to back up their more modest claims.
What does a typical session with a Chiropractor look like?
This varies a lot by practice. The average session seems to be about 30 minutes long and may or may not include x-rays, a comprehensive health history, and/or sit-down consultation.
There are now stop-and-pop shops that do adjustments in 20 minutes for 29.95 and are owned by Massage Envy. On the flip side, also known as the side that is not doing so well, some independent practitioners offer an integrative approach.
I am generally a poo-pooer of Chiropractic care. I believe they are undereducated and have earned the position of the most distrusted medical profession by implementing pushy sales tactics and questionable patient care. There’s also the ever-present issue of them abusing insurance which you can you read more about at ChiroBase.
Generally, you will not be in for a finite amount of treatment when you go to a chiropractor. In fact, you may not even get a clear treatment plan from some of them.
Despite railing against the traditional medical community for pushing procedures and pills, you will find many Chiropractors sell blocks of treatments. You may also find yourself being shmoozed to purchase supplements that are unregulated and often made specifically for the chiro’s practice.
I don’t support any unwarranted treatment, but in Chiropractic you WILL be getting multiple procedures. And with many, you will be getting multiple sets of x-rays to “prove” the treatments are working. Not only are these dubious, but they also expose you to unneeded doses of radiation.
What ailments or conditions is Chiropractic commonly used to treat?
Again, this is question produces answers that are all over the map. Mostly it depends on the chiropractor you go select. The most common uses are to treat headaches, back pain, whiplash, hip issues, SI Joint dysfunction. Generally, most Chiropractors stick to manipulating the vertebral column and other parts of the axial skeleton.
When they stick to their expertise, I believe many chiropractors can be helpful to people with back pain and other ailments with a direct link to a joint. Even in that arena, it is buyer beware!
I cannot overemphasize the importance of researching the chiropractor you are going to see. I recommend this for ever professional you are going to, but it is especially true with practitioners in alternative medicine (chiropractic, naturopaths, massage, acupuncture, holistic nutrition, etc.).
Alternative medicine is riddled with inconsistent training and a complete lack of regulation and safeguarding in many states. Scope of practice also varies wildly depending on what state you are in.
For example, in some states a chiropractor may function as a primary care doctor or even be allowed to perform minor surgery while in a border state they may not be limited to treating issues of the spine and joints.
My Advice: Do some research on anyone who is going to have your well being in their hands. And if it doesn’t feel right or you feel like you wandered onto a sales lot, run for the door and don’t look back.
If you want a deep look at the history and evidence behind chiropractic I suggest heading over to Science Based Medicine.