Chiropractic Profession - Not Just Back Doctors

Should You See a Chiropractor for Your Back Troubles?

The chiropractic profession is no only about cracking backs.  Rather, it is built on the belief that spinal alignment affects the health of the entire body. Because of this, the techniques and tools chiropractors use to align your spine may also bring about a variety of other health benefits.

A chiropractor adjusts a patient.
Chiropractic may help prevent stenosis and relieve back pain. Andy Crawford/Cultural Exclusive/Getty Images

Chiropractic is an alternative medicine discipline based on the view that health is the effect of the spine on the functioning of the body. Because a good part of the nervous system passes through and branches out from the spinal column, any misalignment (subluxation) is bound to affect its function.

Chiropractors treat pinched nerves, chronic low back pain, arthritis, and other conditions. Chiropractic is considered to be manual medicine -- chiropractors make a commitment to surgery-free, drugless patient care. A 2002 survey conducted by Centers for Disease Control found chiropractic to be the fifth most used complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatment, after prayer, meditation, deep breathing and use of natural products.


Diploma. Eric Westbrook / Getty Images

As a CAM profession, chiropractic is sometimes scrutinized by members of conventional medicine. While research on chiropractic is certainly growing, there are still unanswered questions about its effectiveness and safety.

As with any choice of doctor, it is wise to be aware of the licensing and educational requirements of the chiropractic profession. Determine if a chiropractor you're considering meets these requirements and assess his or her approach to patient care.

Chiropractors are licensed by your state, after passing a national exam. They are also regulated by the state, usually by a group called the State Board of Chiropractic Examiners. Chiropractors complete a minimum of 4 years of advanced training in their field.


Looking up health terms
Looking up health terms. H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock / Getty Images

The chiropractic view of health, which is based on spinal alignment, is unique. The main thrust of chiropractors' work is to apply a calculated force to spinal joints to cause a change in alignment and, therefore, the functioning of the nervous system. This, in turn, affects the overall health of the individual.

Because their view of health is unique, chiropractors have a set of terms all their own for describing the pathology and treatment of the spine.


The DC - Doctor of Chiropractic

Chiropractor Tables
Chiropractor Tables. Eliza Snow / Getty Images

Chiropractic got its start in 1895 when a self-taught healer named David Palmer sought a drugless cure for disease. To develop his objective, Palmer turned to the ancient art of manual medicine. Palmer claimed that many health problems were caused when misaligned vertebra impinged on spinal nerves.

With the use of medical histories and neurological and posture exams, chiropractors diagnose the misalignment of the spinal bones (subluxations). They also may use x-Rays and lab tests. They use a thrusting motion of their hands, called adjustments, to address the problems found in their examinations.

Chiropractic Mission in Action - Neck Adjustments and Blood Pressure

Spinal anatomy of the upper back and neck.
Spinal anatomy of the upper back and neck. / Getty Images

While the chiropractic profession's mission is rooted in treatment of general health problems, for the most part, these professionals have been limited by public perception of them as "back doctors."

But in a possible breakthrough for the mission, a preliminary study done in 2007 at the University of Chicago linked a specific type of chiropractic called NUCCA, which adjusts only the very first vertebra, with a reduction in need for blood pressure medication in 25 patients. Follow up studies are likely to take place in 2008.

The spine, ribs, pelvis and sacrum
The spine, ribs, pelvis and sacrum. Images

A leg length difference is a common reason many people seek the services of a chiropractor. In this article, chiropractor, Dr. James Lehman discusses low back pain due to a leg length inequality from a chiropractor's perspective.


Is Chiropractic Care Cost-Effective?

Is chiropractic cost effective?
Is chiropractic cost effective?. H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock / Getty Images
A 2005 study showed that chiropractic is more cost-effective than medical treatment for chronic low back pain. The study was published in October 2005 by the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics and reveals that, while both treatment types cost about the same, chiropractic care results in better outcomes for patients.


Haas, M., et. al. Cost-Effectiveness of Medical and Chiropractic Care for Acute and Chronic Low Back Pain. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological TherapeuticsOct 2005.

Press Release. Special chiropractic adjustment lowers blood pressure among hypertensive patients with misaligned C-1 vertebra. The University of Chicago Medicine. March 2007.