What is a Chiropractor?


A chiropractor is a professional in the health care industry that focuses on diagnosing and treating neuromuscular disorders, with particular attention on providing treatment through spinal manipulation or manual adjustment. Chiropractors tend to find ways to lessen pain whilst improving functionality and mobility of their patients. They also aim to educate their patients on the various ways in which they can take care of their personal health through various therapy techniques, ergonomics and exercise.

Chiropractic care typically falls under the category of alternative medicine along with complementary medicine.

Chiropractors: Main Goals and Principles

Chiropractors place an emphasis on the direct connection between the spine and nervous system. The fundamental principles behind chiropractic care include:

  • The spine’s structural and biomechanical derangement can have a direct effect on one’s nervous system

  • When it comes to many types of illnesses or conditions, chiropractic care can actually repair the spine’s structural integrity, lessen pressure that may exist within the neurological tissue and therefore enhance an individual’s health.

The concept of treating an individual through chiropractic care calls for the re-establishment of complete spinal functionality and mobility, which gets rid of spinal nerve irritation and regenerates distorted reflexes. (http://www.oregon.gov/obce/publications/emebc_philosophy.pdf)

Conditions That Can Be Treated By Chiropractic Care

Chiropractors can use a number of non-surgical methods to provide treatment for patients that have:

  • Lower back pain

  • Leg pain

  • Sciatica

  • Neck pain

  • Headaches

  • Migraines

  • Repetitive strains

  • Sports injuries

  • Arthritic pain (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19028249)

  • Auto accident injuries

Even though the main focus of chiropractic care is to treat neuromusculoskeletal disorders, chiropractors also help with a variety of other issues that do not involve the musculoskeletal or nervous system.

When it is necessary, chiropractors may suggest that patients visit a health practitioner or medical doctor instead. Chiropractors are often aware of other specialists in their field and many of them work together, along with spine specialists, to deliver the best results to their patients.

What Happens During A Chiropractic Examination?

A chiropractic examination can be considered as the same examination period that is required before any health care procedure. However, chiropractors use their own unique method to assess the spine’s function and structure. Afterwards, they decide on the optimal chiropractic care methods to use.

What To Expect

It is the goal of all good chiropractors to help get rid of their patient’s problems in the shortest amount of time, with the minimal amount of treatments possible. Good chiropractors also pride themselves on giving valuable advice that can help patients to avoid recurring episodes of sciatica or other types of pain.

Since there are many techniques and ideas involved in chiropractic care, patients have no reason to not feel relaxed and comfortable with inquiring about anything they are curious about. Chiropractors are eager to help their patients fully understand the reasons behind the examination, assessment and treatment methods that they use.

The following information helps you to understand what will happen during the initial chiropractic examination. The first consultation typically entails that the chiropractor will complete a complete chiropractic exam. This exam can take as little as 45 minutes but can also take significantly longer, depending on the case.

The Initial Chiropractic Visit

Many people chose to discuss their issues with a chiropractor in a quick meeting or via the telephone. These discussions can help answer simple questions but are not comparable to a clinical examination. There are three areas that are included during the first chiropractic clinical exam. These include: patient history, chiropractic exam and diagnostic studies.

Patient History

In order to prepare for the consultation, patients are asked to provide information through various forms. These forms often ask for background details on the patient’s condition or symptoms. Common questions that are asked include:

  • Where is the pain?

  • How long have you experienced this pain?

  • Do you know how the pain started? Explain.

  • Explain the sensations of pain

  • Did it happen after you were injured?

  • Do certain activities or positions aggravate or lessen the pain?

Patients are typically asked to give details of their family’s medical history as well, along with other information such as previous injuries, current medical conditions and a list of treatment or health care providers they have worked with.

Chiropractic Exam

A complete chiropractic exam typically includes a variety of tests, including reflexes, pulse, blood pressure and respiration. Neurological and orthopedic tests also help determine muscle tone, neurological integrity, range of motion and muscle strength.

In some cases, most tests must be conducted in order to appropriately assess a particular area. These tests often require the patient to move in specific ways or assess their posture.

Diagnostic Studies

Depending on the results that come from both the history of the patient and the chiropractic exam, it may be necessary to conduct diagnostic studies. These can help reveal pathologies and identify abnormalities in structure, which helps determine a more precise diagnosis.

Diagnostic studies may not be required. They are only used if the chiropractic believes that the information provided by tests or X-rays can assist in treating the patient optimally. The most frequently used diagnostic studies are MRI scans, X-rays and further lab tests. It is common for chiropractic clinics to offer X-rays, though MRI scans and other types of imaging studies are typically performed at another location.

Diagnosis Following The Chiropractic Exam

The results of all the mentioned parts can help determine a precise diagnosis. After the diagnosis is determined, the chiropractor will decide whether the condition can be helped with chiropractic treatment.

Following the first visit, chiropractors will provide detailed information regarding the patient’s condition (as is diagnosed), personalized chiropractic treatment options and approximate duration of chiropractic care.

Many chiropractors also give their patient’s the information to take home, so that the patient can have time to think about their options and research any issues for themselves.

Chiropractic Diagnosis In Special Instances

After assessing issues of lower back pain, chiropractors tend to select one of three categories: non-specific, nerve problem and potentially serious.

Non-specific – this type of diagnosis defines lumbar spine back pain. It is the most typically type of lower back pain and involves pain that has no specific cause.

Nerve problem – This type of diagnosis is used when there are compressed or pinched nerve roots in the lower back, which can cause sciatica. The most common causes of nerve problems include spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis and a lumbar herniated disc.

Potentially serious – This includes hemophilia, severe neurological issues, infection, tumor, fracture, artificial joint implant issues, open burn, open wound, joint infection and pacemaker problems.

When chiropractors determine that the problem is potentially serious, they will suggest that the patient seeks help from a medical specialist. It is also possible for chiropractors to recommend a surgeon. The chiropractor may still be involved in the treatment, though this is not always the case. Chiropractic manipulation is not an option for these cases because it can actually aggravate symptoms and make things worse.

Chiropractic Manipulation

Chiropractic manipulations, otherwise known as manual manipulation, spinal manipulation and chiropractic adjustment, are the most common treatments used for lower back pain. (http://www.acatoday.org/level2_css.cfm?T1ID=13&T2ID=68)

A chiropractic manipulation occurs when a chiropractor applies manipulation to the spinal vertebrae, which have failed to work as they should or experience unusual patterns of movement.

The goal of chiropractic care is to lower subluxation and promote healthy range of motion and function, whilst lowering nerve irritability.

Chiropractic Manipulation In Detail

Chiropractic manipulation tends to involve:

  • Fast pace, short level thrusts to the vertebra

  • Releasing of gas (known as joint cavitation) that happens when carbon dioxide, nitrogen and oxygen are released. This contributes to the alleviation of joint pressure.

  • A feeling of relief afterwards. Some cases of discomfort are possible but they do not last for a long period of time. The discomfort tends to occur is the patient is tense during the manipulation or is the muscles surrounding the area choose to spasm.

Joint cavitation does not happen in all instances. They often do not occur if the patient is not relaxed during the manipulation or is muscle splinting takes place. In instances such as these, chiropractors often treat the area with ice, allow the patients to relax and rest or apply electrical massage and massage the area before chiropractic manipulation.

Techniques Used for Chiropractic Manipulation

There are a variety of techniques that can be used for chiropractic manipulation. These different techniques vary in level of skill. Even though the chiropractor you choose should be reputable and skilled, it is probably most important that they know when to refrain from chiropractic manipulation.

The Consequences of Chiropractic Manipulation

The most typical side effect to chiropractic manipulation is feelings of soreness or aching in the spinal muscles or joints. If soreness or aching happens, it will typically take place during the first few hours following the treatment. The pain should not last for more than 24 hours post-manipulation. Applying an ice pack to the area can help alleviate symptoms at a much faster rate.

Other Types of Chiropractic Treatment

Spinal manipulations are what chiropractors are best known for. However, chiropractic manipulation is often not the only type of procedure that a chiropractor will perform to improve a patient’s health. For instance, chiropractic treatment can also involve alternative medicine and therapies as well.

Typical Types of Chiropractic Therapy

Other instruments used in chiropractic treatment can include hot and cold applications, massage, exercise, water and light. These types of physiological treatments are frequently used by chiropractors, in combination with manipulations. When applied to the appropriate situations, these types of complimentary treatments can have a profound effect on the body and contribute to a reduction in pain.

Hot and cold applications – Chiropractors often choose to apply either hot or cold compresses to an affected area in order to reduce back pain. They are often used in combination, altering between hot and cold for a period of 10-15 minutes at a time. The cold application is used to numb the area, while the hot application helps to promote blood flow in the area and accelerates healing speeds.

Massage – Massaging soft tissues can dramatically assist with circulation, lessen inflammation and swelling and promote speedy recovery.

Exercise – Many chiropractors give their patients a personalized exercise plan that they can use to improve strengthening and stretching of the back.

Diet adjustments – Aside from offering information on adequate ways to exercise, chiropractors also tend to provide information on ways in which a patient can improve their diet in order to promote recovery. In some cases, chiropractors may also recommend dietary supplements following a spinal manipulation session.

Ultrasound – Ultrasounds use sound waves to provide therapy to joints and soft tissues. In essence, ultrasounds act as a type of massage that helps lessen spasms, back pain and stiffness. They also promote healthy blood flow and a speedy recovery.

Diathermy – Diathermy provides relief to tight connective tissues and muscles. They reduce the chance of muscle spasms and speed up recovery by promoting circulation. The treated area tends to feel comfortably warm during diathermy.

Hydrotherapy – Water can also be used to promote healing. With hydrotherapy, variations in water pressure and temperature can lessen back pain, promote speedy recovery and optimal blood flow.

Traction – This form of massage requires the patient to lie on the back in order to allow a roller system to tend to the back area, which helps massage and stretch the muscles. Other forms of traction, such as non-surgical spinal decompression, may be used as well and provide adequate spinal stretching, while lessening nerve root pressure.

There are many other types of chiropractic therapy that can be used to help accelerate a patient’s recovery. These include electrical muscle stimulation, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulators (TENS), infrared radiation, ergonomics, cold laser therapy and pelvic stabilization.

Using any of the mentioned forms of therapy, in combination with chiropractic manipulation, can get rid of irritation to the nervous or structural system. This irritation is the primary cause for the majority of back pain patients.

Perhaps the most important and long-lasting help that chiropractors can offer to their patient’s is to provide them with the proper education. Chiropractors who advise their patients on ways in which they can improve their lifestyle (through exercise, diet and nutrition) or through self-care techniques can have a positive impact on the future of the patient.

Chiropractic Therapy and Exercise

Exercise is a great way to help reduce and manage lower back pain. A combination of strengthening and cardiovascular exercises should be used to compliment chiropractic treatments. Patients who have a history of heart issues are advised to check with a physician before engaging in cardiovascular activity.

Prior to starting any type of exercise, the chiropractor will provide the patient with detailed instructions in regards to the exercises that they should perform.

In most cases, daily exercise in moderate amounts is extremely beneficial and complimentary to chiropractic care.

Why Exercise Is Important

The benefits of exercise for those with lower back pain include:

  • Pain management

  • Lower back strengthening

  • Allowing patients to continue working

  • Enhanced quality of life

Cardiovascular exercise can help maintain muscle tone, encourage healthy circulation and digestion. One of the most common types of exercise that chiropractors recommend is to have their patient perform 30-minute walks on a regular basis. Even engaging in daily activities such as household chores or work can count as exercise.

Exercise can also help to stretch, strengthen and promote balance in the body. There are many ways that chiropractors will determine the best exercise regime for their patient. One of the most common ways is to assess the patient’s range of motion in the spine. Spinal range of motion can provide a clear indication of the patient’s abilities.

Selecting Your Chiropractor

Choosing your chiropractor is an important decision and should be approached as such. Patients should make sure that they are comfortable with their chiropractor and that the chiropractor has a good reputation and all the necessary training/education.

The easiest way to find out about the best chiropractors in your area is to discuss it with a physical therapist, spine specialist or physician. They will be able to recommend someone who is reputable. While you can ask friends or family members for advice, their opinion is often not as valuable as that of a health care professional.

Ask around and see if the same chiropractor keeps coming up. If the same name is often repeated, it is highly likely that the chiropractor is a good one.

Conducting An Interview With The Chiropractor

Prior to beginning treatment, it is advisable to have a phone interview or office consultation with your potential chiropractor. This allows you to find out if you like the chiropractor, as well as discover important details such as the techniques that are used and the facility where your sessions will take place.

The most important aspect of interviewing a chiropractor is to make sure that you are comfortable with the person and, ideally, the environment as well. It is always recommendable to conduct research on the chiropractor prior to making a commitment.

Chiropractic treatment can be a great way to get rid of lower back pain and other pain issues for good. It is a wonderful healing technique that should only be conducted by a trained professional and one who the patient is comfortable with.