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What You Need to Know About Chiropractic Care

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Chiropractic care is professional healthcare. It centers on the connection between your body’s construction and how it functions. Chiropractic care focuses on your spine. Chiropractors use several different kinds of treatments. They mostly practice called adjustments or manipulations on the spine, neck, and shoulders. These practices correct problems with alignment, can relieve pain, and help you function better. This can help your body naturally heal on its own.

Main Facts

  • Most study into chiropractic care concentrates on manipulations of the spine. This treatment helps patients with lower back discomfort. It can also help relieve a number of other conditions. These include the following:
    • headache
    • pain in the neck
    • joint problems in the lower and upper extremities
    • and problems related to whiplash injuries.
  • Some people experience side effects after a spinal adjustment. These side effects may include fatigue, short lived headache, or pain at the treatment site. Studies in chiropractic care often concentrate on safety.
  • Patients should report all the types of care they receive to all their healthcare providers. Healthcare professionals need the full treatment picture to manage a person’s health. That helps make sure the person is getting safe and coordinated care.

Summary and Historic Information

The word “chiropractic” mixes the Greek terms cheir (hand) and praxis (practice). And that’s exactly what happens in a chiropractic visit. Your chiropractor will treat your symptoms with his or her hands. Hands-on treatment—particularly spinal manipulations—are fundamental in chiropractic treatment. Chiropractors coordinate the body’s structure with bodily function (nervous system).

Adjustments of the spine are a basic type of treatment when a patient sees a chiropractor. However, chiropractors also employ a number of other treatment options. Plus, other types of healthcare professionals also employ manipulations of the spine.

Chiropractic care in the US

Chiropractic care in the US is many times thought of as alternative healthcare. The NHIS conducted a study of alternative care in the US in 2017. Adults using chiropractic care increased from nine percent in 2012 to 10+ percent five years later. Children using chiropractic care, about 3.5%, did not change.

In 2012, adults paid nearly 12 billion dollars on primary and alternative healthcare. And four billion of that was used to see chiropractors or osteopaths.

A majority of those who go to a chiropractor are seeking relief from lower back pain. Chiropractors are also seen for neck or shoulder pain, hand or foot issues, or migraines.

When choosing alternative healthcare for back pain, the 75% of Americans choose chiropractors. Out of that percentage, 66% said they got great benefits from that care.

Chiropractic Treatments

At your first appointment, chiropractors should request your health history. Then they conduct a physical exam, concentrating on your spine. They might also do other exams or recommend getting an x-ray or other tests. Then, if they decide chiropractic care will help, then develop a plan of treatment.

Following your customized treatment plan, your chiropractor will perform manual therapies, including adjustments. These adjustments are mostly done on the spine. They involve the use of a special instrument or the hands to gently apply a controlled force to your joints.  Chiropractors work to restore good health by increasing range and quality of motion to your body. Another kind of manual therapy chiropractors may employ is called joint mobilization.

Chiropractors sometimes mix spinal manipulation as well as additional manual therapy with a few additional types of care, including:

Chiropractors mix spinal manipulation, manual therapy, and additional treatments, including:

  • Ice and heat
  • Electrical stimulus
  • Relaxation procedures
  • Rehabilitative and all-purpose exercises
  • Counseling patients on diet, losing weight, and additional factors about their lifestyle choices
  • Nutritional supplements.

What Science says on Chiropractic Care

Scientists have done studies on spinal adjustments for several problems including:

Man receiving a chiropractic care adjustment.
  • shoulder pain
  • neck or back problems
  • carpal tunnel syndrome
  • asthma
  • migraines and
  • fibromyalgia.

The majority of these studies concentrated on lower back pain. They showed spinal adjustments seem to help some people who suffer from those issues. (For more data, reach the fact sheet on Spinal Adjustments for Lower-Back Pain).

A review of scientific evidence in 2010 showed spinal adjustments and joint mobilization can treat certain conditions:

  • back discomfort,
  • migraines,
  • cervical (neck) related headaches,
  • sore necks,
  • conditions associated with whiplash, and
  • joint problems in both lower and upper extremities.

This review also noted conditions spinal adjustments don’t seem to help.

  • high blood pressure,
  • menstrual pain, and
  • asthma.

The study was inconclusive about middle back pain, fibromyalgia, TMJ, pre-menstrual syndrome, and sciatica.

Chiropractic Care Safety Issues

  • Spinal adjustments may cause side effects. Look for fatigue, discomfort in the treatment areas, or temporary headache after treatment.
  • Rare side effects were reported with cauda equina syndrome (pinched nerve in the lower section of the spinal canal) or herniated discs. The cause and effect are not clear.
  • Safety has been a top concern in other studies:
    • In 2007, research in the UK, involving 19,722, showed people commonly have minor side effects after cervical spine adjustments. However, they concluded there was an extremely low chance of a seriously dangers immediately or within a week of treatment.
    • In 2009, research of 9 years of hospital records in Ontario, Canada reviewed 818 incidents of vertebrobasilar artery (VBA) stroke. VBA involves arteries supplying blood for the back of a person’s brain). The review cited a connection between chiropractic care treatments and a second stroke. There was no evidence suggesting a chiropractor was more dangerous than your primary care doctor. Researchers believed patients pursued care for an associated headache and sore neck before a second stroke.

Doctors: Schooling and Licensing

Chiropractic colleges with accreditation from the Council on Chiropractic Education (CCE) provide programs to earn a Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.) degree. (The CCE is who the US Dept. of Education has certified to accredit US chiropractic colleges.) To get into one of these institutions, a student must have at least 90 semester hour credits of undergraduate study, mainly in the sciences.

Chiropractic education requires four years of study. This includes classroom study, as well as experience caring for patients. Classwork consists of work in biomedical science courses. Chiropractors also study information on public health and study methods. A few types of chiropractors do a two to three year residency. This allows them to get training in other more specialized areas.

Each state along with the District of Columbia individually regulates local chiropractic care. Every state requires someone complete a Doctor of Chiropractic degree program at a college accredited by the CCE. To get a license, you must pass an exams given by the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners. These exams include mock patient visits. The majority of states require yearly continuing education credits to keep a license. The range of chiropractic care differs depending on the state it is practiced in. For instance, some chiropractors may also dispense nutritional supplements. And some can also offer alternative healthcare options like homeopathy or acupuncture.

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