Chiropractic is a therapy that focuses on the relationship between the body's structure and its function, with the belief that impaired body function can be restored through structural corrections. At the core of the practice is spinal adjustment or manipulation, in which pressure is applied by hand to fix misaligned vertebrae. Spinal manipulation is one of the most researched alternative treatments available in the US.
People who seem to benefit the most from chiropractic treatment are those who seek treatment for musculoskeletal disorders; back, neck, and associated arm and leg pain and numbness; or headaches. Research supports chiropractic care for these conditions. Pain in the shoulders and other joints of the arms and legs often respond to chiropractic therapies as well. While chiropractic is less predictable and little researched for treating internal organ problems, some chiropractors report seeing benefits for painful menstrual periods, childhood ear infections, asthma, and digestive disorders.
Your first visit to the chiropractor will probably last about 30 to 60 minutes. The practitioner will make notes on the history of your ailment and do orthopedic and neurological exams to diagnose and screen for conditions that require referral to another specialist. He or she will feel your spine for misaligned vertebrae, joints that are too tight or too loose, and muscular imbalances. The chiropractor may request X-rays and/or lab tests; many have X-ray machines right in their offices.
Once you are diagnosed, treatment begins, which often includes spinal manipulation. Spinal manipulation is usually not uncomfortable—don't let the popping sound you may hear alarm you. Chiropractic therapies may also include hot and cold packs, ultrasound, electronic muscle stimulation, and even acupuncture. Your chiropractor may also teach you exercises and provide you with a supportive collar, brace, corset, or shoe inserts. Depending on what state you live in, your chiropractor may also be licensed to offer dietary counseling.
A full course of chiropractic treatment typically requires 10 to 15 visits, but like any treatment, the extent of care needed may vary from one individual to another. Acute pain may initially necessitate three or more visits a week for several weeks. If there is no improvement in your symptoms within four weeks of care, a chiropractor should refer you to another practitioner. At that point you may also want to seek a second opinion. If you do see improvement, additional care is appropriate, only with less frequent visits.
Your first visit will probably cost between $50 and $150. Follow-up visits usually cost between $30 and $60 each. Most health insurance policies cover chiropractic care to some extent. Automobile insurance policies usually cover treatment as well, and Medicare provides partial coverage. Medicaid and workers' compensation coverage varies depending on the state you live in.
You can get a list of chiropractors in your area at the International Chiropractic Association's Web site at www.chiropractic.org. Every state licenses and regulates chiropractors who have undergone six years or more of training. Consult your healthcare provider about your chiropractic treatment so that you can monitor your progress together. It's also a good idea to talk to your doctor before you seek another opinion or referral if you feel your chiropractic treatment has not been effective.
Acute: describes a condition or illness that begins suddenly and is usually short lasting
Musculoskeletal disorders: Ailments related to problems with the functioning of the muscles in relation to the skeleton.
Vertebrae: the 33 bones that make up the spine
Your Chiropractor and You by Joseph Kandel and David Sudderth (Prima Publishing, 1999)
Chiropractic First: The Fastest Growing Healthcare Choice Before Drugs or Surgery by Terry Rondberg (Chiropractic Journal, 1996)
American Chiropractic Association. Doctor of Chiropractic: Occupational Description. Arlington, Va: American Chiropractic Association. Publication F-21.
American Chiropractic Association. Evidence for the Effectiveness of Chiropractic. Arlington, Va: American Chiropractic Association.
American Chiropractic Association Web site. About Chiropractic. Available at: http//www.amerchiro.com. Accessed November 22, 1999.
Chiropractic Care Reaches New Peak of Acceptance by Consumers and Health Care Community: 80 Percent of Insured American Workers Have Coverage for Chiropractic Services [press release]. Arlington, Va: American Chiropractic Association; May 11, 1998.
International Chiropractors Association Web site. ACA Policy Statements. Available at: http//www.chiropractic.org. Accessed November 22, 1999.