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What is chiropractic?

Chiropractic is a branch of the healing arts which is concerned with human health and disease processes. Doctors of Chiropractic are physicians who consider man as an integrated being and give special attention to the physiological and biochemical aspects including structural, spinal, musculoskeletal, neurological, vascular, nutritional, emotional and environmental relationships.

The practice and procedures which may be employed by Doctors of Chiropractic are based on the academic and clinical training received in and through accredited chiropractic colleges and include, but are not limited to, the use of current diagnostic and therapeutic procedures. Such procedures specifically include the adjustment and manipulation of the articulations and adjacent tissues of the human body, particularly of the spinal column. Included is the treatment of intersegmental aberrations for alleviation of related functional disorders.

Chiropractic is a drug-free, non-surgical science and, as such, does not include pharmaceuticals or incisive surgery. Due regard shall be given to the fact that state laws, as well as the nation's antitrust laws, may allow Doctors of Chiropractic to utilize ancillary health care procedures commonly referred to as being in the common domain.

Reference:  American Chiropractic Association


Does it hurt?

Chiropractic works by restoring your own inborn ability to be healthy. When under the proper control of your nervous system, all the cells, tissue, and organs of your body are designed to resist disease and ill health. The chiropractic approach to better health is to locate and help remove interferences to your natural state of being healthy.

A common interference to the nervous system is the 24 moving bones of the spinal column plus skull and sacrum. A loss of normal motion or position of these bones can irritate or impair the function of the nervous system. This can disrupt the transmission of controlling nerve impulses.

With improved spinal function there is often improved nervous system function. Your chiropractic doctor can help remove any interference that may be impairing normal health.

Since the primary focus of your care is improved nervous system function, chiropractic can have a positive effect on many health conditions not normally thought of as “back” problems. 

What do chiropractors do?

Helping to restore proper spinal biomechanics and improved nervous system function begins with a case history. This gives the chiropractor a background about your health, such as surgeries, accidents, the onset of your condition, and other details affecting your current health.

After reviewing your history and discussing your specific problem, thorough orthopedic, neurological, and chiropractic examination is performed. X-rays may be taken to uncover structural and functioning problems associated with the spinal column. These examinations help identify areas of spinal malfunction and resulting nervous system deficit.

The findings of these examinations are explained and a plan of chiropractic adjustments may be recommended. Progress is monitored with periodical examinations and follow-up reports.

Since the word “doctor” comes from the Latin word meaning teacher, regardless of your chiropractic doctor’s unique clinical approach, he or she has a strong commitment to patient education.

How does chiropractic work?

Doctors of Chiropractic are physicians who specialize in the physiological and biochemical.  The chiropractor uses specific techniques to restore and maintain neurological function to the body and to alleviate pain without the use of the prescribed medications.  This is done primarily through adjustments.

How safe is chiropractic care?
Chiropractic is widely recognized as one of the safest drug-free, non-invasive therapies available for the treatment of back pain, neck pain, joint pain of the arms or legs, headaches, and other neuromusculoskeletal complaints. Although chiropractic has an excellent safety record, we know that no health treatment is completely free of potential adverse effects.

The risks associated with chiropractic, however, are very small. Many patients feel immediate relief following chiropractic treatment, but some may sometimes experience mild soreness or aching, just as they do after some forms of exercise. Current literature shows that minor discomfort or soreness following spinal manipulation typically fades within 24 hours.1

In addition to being a safe form of treatment, spinal manipulation is incredibly effective, getting patients back on their feet faster than traditional medical care. A March 2004 study in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics found that chiropractic care is more effective than medical care at treating chronic low-back pain in those patients who have been experiencing the symptoms for one year or less. In addition, a study published in the July 15, 2003, edition of the journal Spine found that manual manipulation provides better short-term relief of chronic spinal pain than a variety of medications.

Neck Adjustments
Neck pain and some types of headaches are sometimes treated through neck adjustment. Neck adjustment, often-called cervical manipulation, works to improve joint mobility in the neck, restoring range of motion and reducing muscle spasm, which helps relieve pressure and tension. Neck adjustment is a precise procedure that is generally applied by hand to the joints of the neck. Patients typically notice a reduction in pain, soreness, stiffness, and an improved ability to move the neck.

Neck manipulation is a remarkably safe procedure. Although some reports have associated upper high-velocity neck manipulation with a certain kind of stroke, or vertebral artery dissection, there is not yet a clear understanding of the connection. While we don’t know the actual incidence of stroke associated with high-velocity upper neck manipulation, the occurrence appears to be rare - 1 in 5.85 million manipulations 2 - based on the clinical reports and scientific studies to date.

To put this risk into perspective, if you drive more than a mile to get to your chiropractic appointment, you are at greater risk of serious injury from a car accident than from your chiropractic visit.

It has also been suggested that sudden, severe upper-neck pain and/or headache, which may indicate a pre-stroke condition, could cause someone to visit a doctor of chiropractic. In addition, some common activities, such as stargazing, rapidly turning the head while driving, and having a shampoo in a hair salon may cause an aneurysm-a widening of an artery resulting from the weakening of the artery walls-of the neck arteries, resulting in stroke. Such events remain very difficult to predict.

It is important for patients to understand the risks associated with some of the most common treatments for neck and back pain-prescription non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS)-as these options may carry risks significantly greater than those of manipulation. According to a study from the American Journal of Gastroenterology, approximately one-third of all hospitalizations and deaths related to gastrointestinal bleeding can be attributed to the use of aspirin or NSAID painkillers like ibuprofen.3

Furthermore, surgery for conditions for which manipulation may also be used carries risks many times greater than those of chiropractic treatment. Even prolonged bed rest carries some risks, including muscle atrophy, cardiopulmonary deconditioning, bone mineral loss and thromoembolism.4

If you are visiting your doctor of chiropractic with upper-neck pain or headache, be very specific about your symptoms. This will help your doctor of chiropractic offer the safest and most effective treatment, even if it involves referral to another health care provider. If the issue of stroke concerns you, do not hesitate to discuss it with your doctor of chiropractic. Depending on your clinical condition, he or she can forego manipulation, and instead can recommend joint mobilization, therapeutic exercise, soft-tissue techniques, or other therapies.

Research Ongoing
The ACA believes that patients have the right to know about the health risks associated with any type of treatment, including chiropractic. Today, chiropractic researchers are involved in studying the benefits and risks of spinal adjustment in the treatment of neck and back pain through clinical trials, literature reviews and publishing papers reviewing the risks and complications of neck adjustment.

All available evidence demonstrates that chiropractic treatment holds an extremely small risk. The chiropractic profession takes this issue very seriously and engages in training and postgraduate education courses to recognize the risk factors in patients, and to continue rendering treatment in the most effective and responsible manner.
From the American Chiropractic Association
1. Senstad O, et al. Frequency and characteristics of side effects of spinal manipulative therapy. Spine 1997 Feb 15;435-440.
2. Haldeman S, et al. Arterial dissection following cervical manipulation: a chiropractic experience. Can Med Assoc J2001;165(7):905-06.
3. Lanas A, et al. A nationwide study of mortality associated with hospital admission due to severe gastrointestinal events and those associated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug use. Am J Gastroenterol 2005;100:1685-1693.
4. Lauretti W. The Comparative Safety of Chiropractic. In Daniel Redwood, ed., Contemporary Chiropractic. New York: Churchill Livingstone, 1997, p. 230-8.

This patient information page is a public service of the Journal of the American Chiropractic Association. The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate in most instances, but they are not a substitute for a diagnosis by a specialist. For specific information concerning your health condition, consult your doctor of chiropractic.

How long until I feel better?

This varies widely and is contingent on many factors including: the length of time the condition has existed, the severity of the problem, lifestyle issues that affect the condition, and consistent patient participation in the treatment process.  Pain relief is not an indicator of health or recovery.  It is only the first step to complete wellness.

How does chiropractic differ from a medical doctor?

There are two types of doctors licensed as medical physicians: M.D.s (medical doctors) and D.O.s (doctors of osteopathy). Medical physicians have unlimited scope of practice and can prescribe medications and (with the appropriate additional training) perform surgery. Doctors of chiropractic have a different scope of practice and in most states do not prescribe medication or perform surgery. Instead, chiropractors specialies in manual forms of therapy, physical therapy modalities, and sometimes nutrition and exercise rehabilitation.

Doctors of all types will sometimes continue treatment even if the patient is feeling better because symptoms (or a lack thereof) are not an indicator of health or normal function. For instance, someone with a heart problem may feel perfectly fine just a few moments before suffering a heart attack. A chiropractic example would be a case where a person has no pain, but has a case of degenerative arthritis that will eventually produce major symptoms if the underlying causes are left uncorrected. Doctors are trained to evaluate the function of the body and will treat patients for the purpose of correcting abnormal function, whether or not the patient has any symptoms.  

What is an adjustment?

Any chiropractic therapeutic procedure utilizing controlled force, leverage, direction, breadth, and velocity, directed at specific joints.

What is manipulation?

Chiropractic manipulation is a well-established treatment for mechanical pain.  It can relieve pain and neurological deficit, shorten the recovery period, and prevent the development of chronic pain and disability syndrome.

What is subluxation?

An altered alignment, movement and/or physiologic function within a joint.  Signals between your brain and your body can become distorted or exaggerated from nerve irritation when spinal bones choke or chafe nerves.  When this disruption occurs, nerve messages become weak, causing your brain to lose touch with affected organs and tissues. 

Are x-rays always needed?

Oftentimes x-rays are not indicated.  The need for x-rays will be determined by the chiropractor and is based on a variety of factors.

Is self-adjustment harmful?

YES.  Self-adjustment is harmful to your body and should never be attempted.

What causes the sound I hear during adjustment?

Often described as a “popping”, this sound is quite normal and is the release of gas between opposing surfaces within the joint.  You could compare it to the sound you hear when opening a soda bottle.

Why do children get chiropractic adjustments?

Routine chiropractic adjustments ensure that the normal falls, bumps and bruises of childhood don’t have negative long-lasting effects.  Children under chiropractic care tend to have fewer ear infections, a lower incidence of tonsillitis and enjoy overall superior health.

What are the alternatives to back surgery?

A majority of back pain episodes have no known biological/mechanical cause of pain. Though many cases of back pain will resolve on their own, moderate to severe cases do require profession healthcare intervention. If you suffer from back pain that continues for longer than 24 or 48 hours, seek care to rule out serious pathology and to begin recovery.

So how does the patient with back pain know that surgery is the recommended, most effective method of treatment and what are viable options to try before agreeing to surgery?

The Viable Options:
    t Spinal Manipulation
    t Medications
    t Exercise
    t Physical Therapies
    t Psychological Counseling

Understanding Back Pain:

While most people would prefer to manage back pain through one of the above options, it is never the less important to remember that in a vast majority of cases, back pain will improve with time, it is rarely life threatening, and activity can often be resumed or continued at a regular pace. One study found that people who understood that their pain was not caused by something "serious" and that they should continue activities as normally as possible, improved faster than those receiving regular care. The idea is that many patients believe that back pain will worsen until they are either homebound or confined to a wheelchair so they take great precautions to avoid movement that they believe will aggravate the condition. After being told that the condition is in fact benign and self-limiting and that lack of movement is contraindicated for the condition, the patients resumed normal activity and relieved the vicious cycle of pain, muscle tension caused by fear of pain, and more pain.

If you opt for surgery, know that if it fails, you may not then be able to try conservative care for the pain. In other instances, however, conservative care (such as chiropractic) can help you deal with changes your body must make following surgery. For example, if you have had lumbar fusion, the fused vertebrae can not be manipulated. The other vertebrae - that are now compensation for this lack of movement - will need extra care and can be manipulated.

Surgery will not, as many believe, make your back stronger; in most cases, your back will be weaker. Adaptations will need to be made to daily postures, exercise programs, and possibly occupations. A Doctor of Chiropractic can assist you with your limitations following surgery and possibly show you how to overcome them. 

Can I get adjusted after a back surgery?

Continued chiropractic care is always beneficial.  Studies show that the surgically altered joint increases the stress to the joints above and below, making it important to include chiropractic care as part of the overall health program.

What is Osteoarthritis and can chiropractic help?

Osteoarthritis is a painful and debilitating disease that causes the degeneration of the cartilage between joints. Once the cartilage is worn away, the joints rub against each other, causing tissue and bone damage, and with it, the joints stiffen up and the bones may grow "spurs," lateral projections that may cause pain.pain and it affects 30 to 40 million Americans.  It mainly hits older people.   Nearly everyone over 40 has signs of osteoarthritis that show up on an x-ray. But younger people, particularly those injured in athletics or in such occupations as ballet dancing or football are also susceptible.

If you suffer from osteoarthritis, regular chiropractic treatments can help manage your pain and discomfort - without the uncomfortable and potentially dangerous side-effects often associated with drugs.

What is Sciatica?

Sciatica is a low back and leg pain related to the sciatic nerve - and it can be very uncomfortable, even disabling. The sciatic nerve, the largest in the body, is formed from nerves that exit between lumbar (low back) vertebrae and then travel through the buttocks and down each leg into the feet. Typically, the pain starts as an ache in the lower back, then in the buttocks, usually only one side. It may then go down the leg, causing numbness - a "pins and needles" feeling. The leg may become weaker and more painful if the condition persists.

What is whiplash?

Whiplash is a common name for an injury when the neck is "whipped" - sudden hyper-extension (backward motion) followed by sudden hyper-flexion (forward motion). Whiplash can occur when the body pitches forward suddenly from a stumble, fall, or other accident. It happens most typically in auto "rear-end" collisions. The driver's (and/or passenger's) head first snaps backward and then forward by the quick stopping motion of an unexpected rear-end collision. The whipping motion usually strains or tears the muscles, ligaments, and soft tissue of the neck and frequently injures the cervical spine as well.

Back2Back Chiropractic will be closed from August 13th through August 21st.