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What does a chiropractor do?
Chiropractors treat misaligned bones, joints and vertebrae of the spine that can cause problems such as back pain, neck pain and headaches. By adjusting the skeleton, the chiropractor enables the body to heal naturally as it returns to its natural balance.
During your first visit, a chiropractor, who is a licensed primary care physician, will ask you to complete a full health history, including details regarding your current complaint, as well as other illnesses that run in your family. In some cases, a chiropractor might feel that x-rays are necessary. He or she will palpate the spine or other affected areas, and will check the ease and range of motion of bones and joints. You may be asked to walk around the room to demonstrate your gait and posture.
After this extensive exam, the chiropractor will explain any musculoskeletal problems he or she has identified, often using life-size models of the spine or skeletal areas to demonstrate. Then you’ll be asked to sit or lie on a chiropractic table for the “adjustment,” a carefully controlled pressure applied by hand to the painful or restricted area. There’s often a painless “pop” that you hear as the joint is adjusted.
Besides hand manipulations, a chiropractor might use:
• Activator: A rubber-tipped instrument that manipulates the vertebrae or tender or delicate joints and bones.
• Ultrasound: The subtle vibrations from this machine can ease muscle spasms and reduce inflammation in the tissues.
• Supports, rolls, wedges: These aids help hold the body in a balanced position during the adjustment.
• Non-force or “gentle-touch” techniques: Light to medium pressure is applied to the muscles attached to a misaligned bone to help the muscle relax and elongate.
Depending on your health problem, treatments generally last two to three weeks, often involving two or three visits per week.
Key principles of chiropractic
Chiropractic science centers around the fact that the nervous system controls the function of the body’s cells, tissues and organs. When the spine or other parts of the skeleton are pushed out of alignment, they can irritate the nervous system. By correcting the positions of the bones and joints, chiropractors restore normal function of the nervous system, and subsequently the entire body — without using drugs or narcotic pain killers.
Much of chiropractic care is devoted to the spine, which connects the brain to the rest of the body, along with the thousands of nerves that branch out to the arms, legs, hands and feet. When the skeleton and nervous systems are balanced, the body is free to heal and regulate itself.
Which types of conditions are best treated by chiropractic?
Much of chiropractic is devoted to helping with problems that are muscular and skeletal in origin, including:
• Spine and neck disorders
• Headaches and migraines
• Chronic pain
• Postural problems
• Repetitive motion disorders (such as carpal tunnel syndrome)
However, since organ systems are affected by the nervous system, chiropractic can also be useful for treating disorders such as vertigo, menstrual pain, gastrointestinal complaints and addictions.
Chiropractic colleges require that students complete a minimum of four academic years of post-graduate professional study, including clinical experience under supervision by teaching staff, to attain the degree of doctor of chiropractic (D.C.). Then the graduating chiropractor must pass a nationally standardized examination from the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners to become licensed in any state.
Beyond this intial program, a chiropractor may study for post-doctorate degrees in specialized areas such as sports medicine, orthopedics, pediatrics and occupational health. To find a chiropractor in your area, visit the International Chiropractors Association at: www.chiropractic.org
What to look for when choosing a chiropractor
Find out a potential chiropractor’s training and treatment approach. You should feel comfortable with the practitioner and his or her thorough explanation of their treatment plan for your condition. You should also feel positive about the office environment and the type of treatment they provide. You may want to request that the chiropractor uses only very gentle methods of adjustment until you become familiar with the way chiropractic feels in your body.
Questions to ask the chiropractor
• How many years of clinical experience do they have?
• Does he or she have additional training and experience in areas relevant to you, such as sports or occupational injuries?
• Does the practitioner refer you to other practitioners if your health problem is beyond the scope of chiropractic?
• How much does an adjustment cost and how long will the session last?
• How often will you be expected to return for subsequent treatments?
• Besides manipulation, what other techniques does he or she use?
• Will adjustment be uncomfortable?
• Will there be after-effects of the treatment?
• Can I claim visits on my medical insurance?