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As always, seek professional advice before using any of the methods listed.

Dictionary definition

A therapeutic system based primarily upon the interactions of the spine and nervous system, the method of treatment usually being to adjust the segments of the spinal column.

Originating from Greek words that mean "done by hand".



Basic Theories

It is a well grounded principle that the body can heal itself, assuming that the skeletal system is correctly aligned and the nervous system is fully functioning. To achieve this from the skeletal system and the nervous system, the practitioner will make use of their hands or an adjusting tool to perform specific manipulations of the vertebrae.

When the vertebrae are not correctly articulated, resulting in a condition known as "subluxation", the theory is that nerve transmission is disrupted and causes pain in the back, as well as other areas of the body.

Chiropractic is one of the most popular Alternative Medicines currently available. Some would say it now qualifies as mainstream treatment as opposed to complementary medicine.

Mainstream or Not

Chiropractic treatment is now covered by a number of insurance plans and in 2004, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced full inclusion of chiropractic care for veterans.

It has become well-accepted treatment for acute pain and problems of the spine, including lower back pain and whiplash. Applications beyond that scope are not supported by current medical evidence, although there are ongoing studies into the usefulness of chiropractic for such problems as ear infections, dysmenorrhea, infant colic, migraine headaches, and many other conditions.

For a long time, this was looked down on by health care professionals, and thought of as ineffective, but through the years, it has become more and more accepted.

As recently as the 1970s, the American Medical Association (a national group of medical doctors) was quite hostile towards chiropractic. AMA members were advised that it was unethical to be associated with chiropractors. Fortunately that has changed, and as of 2000, many allopathic or traditionally trained physicians enjoy cordial referral relationships with chiropractors.


The vast majority of people will go through some sort of back pain at some time during their lives. Injuries can be a result of overexertion and poor posture. Depending on the cause and severity of the condition, options for treatment may include physical therapy, rest, medications, surgery, or chiropractic care. Chiropractic treatment carries none of the risks of surgical or pharmacologic treatment.

Chiropractic Practitioners use an holistic approach to healthb care. The goal is not merely to relieve the present ailment, but to analyze the cause and recommend appropriate changes of lifestyle to prevent the problem from occurring again. They believe in a risk/benefit analysis before use of any intervention. The risk of an adverse outcome is extremely low.

Chiropractic has also proven, in many studies to be less expensive than many more traditional treatments such as outpatient physical therapy.

Relief from some neuromuscular problems is immediate, although a series of treatments is likely to be required to maintain the improvement.

Spinal manipulation is an excellent option for acute lower back pain, and may also relieve neck pain as well as other musculoskeletal pain. Although most back pain will subside eventually with no treatment at all, chiropractic treatment can significantly shorten the time it takes to get relief. Some types of headache can also be successfully treated by chiropractic.


Chiropractic is not an appropriate therapy for diseases that are severely degenerative and may require medication or surgery. Many conditions of the spine are amenable to manipulative treatment, but this does not include fractures. The practitioner should be informed in advance if the patient is on anticoagulants, or has osteoporosis or any other condition that may weaken the bones. Other circumstances might suggest the patient should not have chiropractic care. These should be detected in the history or physical exam. In addition to fractures, Down syndrome, some congenital defects, and some types of cancer are a few of the things that may preclude spinal manipulation. On rare occasions, a fracture or dislocation may occur. There is also a very slim possibility of experiencing a stroke as a result of spinal manipulation, but estimates are that it is no more frequent than 2.5 occurrences per one million treatments.

Patients should be wary of chiropractors who insist on costly x rays and repeated visits with no end in sight. Extensive use is not scientifically justifiable, especially in most cases of lower back pain. There are some circumstances when x rays are indicated, including acute or possibly severe injuries such as those that might result from a car accident.

Side effects

It is not uncommon to have local discomfort in the form of aches, pains, or spasms for a few days following a chiropractic treatment. Some patients may also experience mild headache or fatigue that resolves quickly.

Some of this pain can be a result of the body healing, and being in the correct shape for the first time.

Research and general acceptance

The public is strongly in favor of chiropractic treatment. Chiropractors see the lion's share of all patients who seek medical help for back problems. And chiropractic treatment is the most widely used of all alternative medical treatments. Research has also supported the use of spinal manipulation for acute low back pain. There is some anecdotal evidence recommending chiropractic treatment for ailments unrelated to musculoskeletal problems, but there is not enough research-based data to support this. On the other hand, a chiropractor may be able to treat problems and diseases unrelated to the skeletal structure by employing therapies other than spinal manipulation.

Although many chiropractors limit their practice to spine and joint problems, others claim to treat disorders that are not closely related to the back or musculoskeletal system. These include asthma, bedwetting, bronchitis, coughs, dizziness, dysmenorrhea, earache, fainting, headache, hyperactivity, indigestion, infertility, migraine, pneumonia, and issues related to pregnancy.

There are at least three explanations for the possible effectiveness for these conditions;-

  • One is that the problems could be linked to a nerve impingement, as may be possible with bed-wetting, dizziness, fainting, and headache
  • In a second group, chiropractic treatment may offer some relief from complicating pain and spasms caused by the disease process, as with asthma, bronchitis, coughs, and pneumonia. The discomforts of pregnancy may also be relieved with gentle chiropractic therapy
  • A third possibility is that manipulation or use of soft-tissue techniques may directly promote improvement of some conditions.

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