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What is chiropractic?

The word “chiropractic” combines the Greek words cheir (hand) and praxis (action) and means “done by hand.” Chiropractic is a form of health care that focuses on the relationship between the body’s structure, primarily of the spine, and function. Doctors of chiropractic, who are also called chiropractors or chiropractic physicians, use a type of hands-on therapy called manipulation (or adjustment) as their core clinical procedure. The technique is most often used to treat musculoskeletal conditions–problems with the muscles, joints, bones, and connective tissue such as cartilage, ligaments, and tendons.

The basic concepts of chiropractic can be described as follows:

  • The body has a powerful self-healing ability.
  • The body’s structure (primarily that of the spine) and its function are closely related, and this relationship affects health.
  • Chiropractic therapy is given with the goals of normalizing this relationship between structure and function and assisting the body as it heals.

What do chiropractors do in treating patients?

During your initial visit, the chiropractor will take your health history and perform a physical examination, with special emphasis on the spine, and possibly other examinations or tests such as x-rays. If the doctor determines that you are an appropriate candidate for chiropractic therapy, he will develop a treatment plan specific for your condition.

When the chiropractor treats you, he may perform one or more adjustments. An adjustment (also called a manipulation treatment) is a manual therapy, or therapy delivered by the hands. Given mainly to the spine, chiropractic adjustments involve applying a controlled, low amplitude force to a joint. They are done to increase the range and quality of motion in the area being treated. Most chiropractors use other treatments in addition to adjustment, such as mobilization, massage, and nonmanual treatments such as:

Rehabilitative exercise, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, counseling about diet, weight loss, and other lifestyle factors, and dietary supplementation.

How many treatments will be required?

More than one session is usually needed to correct a problem; a typical course of treatment lasts several weeks. The chiropractor may suggest two or three sessions a week, then reduce the frequency to weekly sessions once the condition being treated improves. Patient and chiropractor together evaluate the effectiveness of treatment based on the goals discussed in the first session.

What conditions are treated effectively with chiropractic?

Chiropractic has been shown to be effective for acute and chronic low back pain, neck pain, headaches (including migraines), frozen shoulder, tennis elbow and other sports injuries, and carpal tunnel syndrome, and may be helpful for otitis media (ear infection), digestive problems, menstrual and premenstrual pain, and asthma.

Are there conditions that should not be treated with chiropractic?

Individuals with bone fractures or tumors, acute arthritis, bone or joint infections, or advanced osteoporosis should avoid chiropractic therapy in areas affected by any of these conditions. Patients should also tell their chiropractor about any physical disabilities they have, or if they are experiencing symptoms of numbness, tingling, weakness, or other neurological problems. In extremely rare cases, manipulation of the neck has damaged blood vessels or caused strokes. The screening process, however, is designed to detect people at high risk.


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