Millions of Americans have always turned to chiropractic treatment for back, neck, head, and joint pain despite the fact that back crackers were thought to be “quacks” by many medical doctors. Well, a new age has dawned. A recent federal study showing spinal manipulation can relieve low back pain has boosted chiropractic care to new heights of respectability. Today, doctors may refer patients to chiropractors or work in conjunction with a chiropractic practitioner to give patients optimal care. Many insurance companies cover chiropractic care, and hospitals are offering access and/or staff privileges to chiropractors. If you are interested in trying the chiropractic approach, the following information will be useful.
What is Chiropractic?
Chiropractors believe that interference with the body’s muscular, nervous and skeletal systems (especially the spine or vertebrae) impairs many important body functions and lowers resistance to disease. A great emphasis is placed on keeping the spine functioning properly to relieve pressure on connected muscles, joints and nerves. Such therapy not only helps problems in the back but in the feet, hands and internal organs. In fact, spinal adjustments may relieve a spectrum of ailments such as tension headache, certain types of migraine, menstrual cramps, allergies, asthma, stomach disorders, spastic colon, and arm, hand, and leg pain that’s due to dysfunction of the neck or lower back. Some patients with asthma and emphysema even turn to chiropractic care to release tension in the chest. A study presently underway will help determine if manipulation of the neck helps the ears drain properly, thus alleviating otitis media–the ear infection that plagues children.
Doctors of Chiropractic medicine (D.C.s) manipulate or adjust the spinal column with easy, manual thrusts to move the spinal vertebrae back to their normal positions. A chiropractor will sometimes also manipulate the joints of the neck, arms, and legs.
Chiropractic has always been on the cutting edge of the “wellness” movement, which is finally taking root in this country. Chiropractic physicians are concerned with a patient’s overall well-being and recognize that many factors affect health, including stress, exercise, diet, rest, environment, and heredity. Chiropractors use drugless, nonsurgical health treatments and rely heavily on the body’s ability to heal itself.
What Training Do Chiropractors Have?
Chiropractors are licensed in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. A rigorous course of study is necessary to receive a degree of Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.). Most state licensing boards require at least two years of undergraduate education (a few states require a bachelor’s degree), and completion of a four-year chiropractic college course. To maintain a license, almost all states require completion of a specified number of hours of continuing education each year.
Are There Different Kinds of Chiropractors?
Practitioners either fall into the “straight” or “mixer” category. Today, the majority of chiropractors are mixers. In addition to spinal manipulation, mixers recommend lifestyle changes in exercise, nutrition, and sleeping habits, and they stress preventive measures to stay healthy. By contrast, straight chiropractors closely follow the original concept of adjusting displaced spinal vertebrae.
What Happens During a Chiropractic Examination?
A chiropractor will take a medical history, conduct physical, neurological, and orthopedic examinations. Chiropractic physicians spend a considerable amount of time assessing posture, examining the spine, testing reflexes, joint motion, and muscle strength. X rays and other diagnostic images are often used to locate vertebral dysfunction and to rule out disorders like tumors or fractures, which require the attention of other health-care experts. Some M.D.s think chiropractors rely too heavily on X rays. But chiropractic physicians say modern equipment adequately protects against radiation.
Chiropractors can order laboratory tests, give nutritional advice and use a variety of treatment options, including ultrasound (high-frequency sound waves that improve blood flow), electric and heat therapy, and they may also apply supports such as straps, tapes, and braces.
What Can’t Chiropractors Do?
Generally, chiropractors are not licensed to treat conditions including (but not limited to) cancer, internal injuries, lacerations and cuts, fractures of bones and chronic ailments such as high blood pressure and diabetes. Patients diagnosed with such problems should be referred to an M.D. by the chiropractor.
In addition, chiropractors do not perform invasive procedures such as injections, transfusions and surgery, nor do they prescribe any medication that is not available over-the-counter.
How You Can Find a Chiropractor
Your first step is to gather names. Here are a variety of sources you can try:
- Health Pages‘ Listings. Check out our comparative tables on chiropractors in your area.
- Physicians. Ask a trusted physician for a recommendation.
- Friends, relatives or business associates. Referrals from people you know are usually based on trust and confidence, which is certainly in your favor. Remember, though, that your contacts’ opinions may be largely based on how they click with the physician’s personality and style. Only a visit with the chiropractor will reveal if these qualities suit your personal preferences as well.
- Chiropractic Associations. The American Chiropractic Association (703-276-8800) or a local chiropractic society can give you a list of members in your area.
- Managed care plan. If you belong to a managed care plan, find out if chiropractic services are covered and if so, which chiropractors are affiliated with it. Also ask what information is available on their background and services.
Narrowing the Field
Once you’ve gathered some names, use these guidelines to help you check out prospective chiropractors.
- Professional Credentials. Call your state’s Chiropractic Board of Examiners. They can tell you if a particular chiropractor is licensed in your state, is up to date with continuing education requirements, and if there is any record of disciplinary actions.
- Practice Arrangements and Location. Find out if the chiropractor has a solo or a group practice. In a group practice, two or more practitioners of the same specialty or different specialties share office space. Also inquire who will take care of you when your own chiropractor is not available.
Take into account the location of the practice and the office hours. If these aren’t convenient, be honest with yourself about whether you will make the time to get there.
A personal visit is the only way to evaluate if a physician has the ability to put you at ease and to communicate. A chiropractor–just like any other type of doctor–should treat you like a partner in your own health care by explaining every procedure, why it’s being done, and what results are expected. When you schedule an initial appointment, don’t be afraid to ask if they offer a free initial consultation or a special discount for a first visit.
To get the most out of your visit, make a list of what you want to know about the physician, the practice and chiropractic itself. Some important issues to discuss include:
Will the chiropractor refer you to an M.D. or work in conjunction with one if appropriate for your particular condition? What should you expect and approximately how many treatments will be necessary? Make it clear that you do not want to be treated forever. It’s hard to predict how many adjustments will be needed to correct a problem. For some patients, one visit does it. Others may need several months of regular spinal manipulation. However, patients are advised to get a second opinion from an M.D. or another chiropractor if back pain does not improve after a few weeks of treatment.
It’s your responsibility to reveal everything about your health and medications you are taking so that the chiropractor can make an accurate diagnosis and decide upon the best course of therapy. Withholding information about any problems you have may result in inappropriate or even harmful treatment. For example, spinal manipulation is not recommended for people with severe spinal injuries accompanied by numbness or tingling in the limbs or with bone weakening diseases such as osteoporosis.