What Do Chiropractors Do Anyway?

One of the funnest experiences I get to have is introducing people to chiropractic care for the very first time. People always come with some sort of preconceived notion. Sometimes it is some crazy idea about what effect the adjustment will have on their body. For example, last week I had a patient ask if I was going to “Linda Blair” her head. Other people genuinely have no idea what to expect when they go to a chiropractor. So, in this post I want to shed a little bit of light on what chiropractors do.

What do Chiropractors Do?

A visit to the chiropractor is really similar to any other doctor’s visit in many ways. Of course there is paperwork to fill out with information about your past health history for your first visit. I know nobody enjoys this paperwork (I sure don’t when I go). However, it’s important information to have so that we can determine whether it’s safe to treat you and what kind of treatment to provide. This paperwork will be the basis for getting a good past health history.

Next, there’s the exam which consists of looking at things like posture, range of motion, orthopedic tests and feeling for areas of muscle tenderness and tension. One of the primary things we are looking for during this exam is how the different segments of your spine move. If we’re going to adjust your spine (I’ll talk about what this means in a second) this is one of the ways we figure out where to adjust. Your exam will help to pinpoint the exact cause(s) of your problem.

After a history and exam the very next part of the visit is actually talking. This is called a “review of findings”. It’s a chance for the chiropractor to let you know what has been found and what can be done to fix it. This should include a basic description of your problem such as joint dysfunction, a low back strain or the type of headache you have. There may be some speculation about how these problems came about (posture strain, trauma, etc.). Treatments for your condition (adjustments, heat, exercises, ultrasound, etc.) will be discussed. There’s also a portion of the review of findings that we call “informed consent”. This means that the doctor is going over your prognosis, alternative treatments, risks and give you a chance to ask questions.

What About the Treatment?

Once all of the due diligence (history and physical exam) have been done, it’s time for the “magic”. For some chiropractors this just means that you’ll get the segments of your spine that aren’t moving well adjusted (hang in there… I’m almost to the part where I talk about what this means). I like to take a more holistic approach which also includes talking about changes in your environment that can help you recover more quickly, completely and staying that way. When I say environment I mean everything from the way to sit at work or in your car to the foods that you eat. I may also use physiotherapies like ultrasound, electrical muscle stimulation, massage, etc. Often, I assign and demonstrate exercises and stretches that give you the tools to manage and correct your problems outside of the treatment room. Real health care is about empowerment. It’s not just about lying on my table while I do something to you; it’s opening your mind and learning what you can do for yourself.

The Adjustment

Ok, NOW it’s time to talk about the adjustment. This is the term we use to describe the primary treatment method used by most chiropractors. It’s a shallow but quick (I’ve heard it described as “ninja-like”) thrust to a restricted joint. This can be in the spine, the shoulders, hips, toes, or just about any other place you have a joint. Regardless of how this may sound to you it’s usually a way to get some instant relief to a joint. You may have heard this called “popping” or “cracking”. We pop popcorn and we crack eggs. When it comes to a bio-mechanical wonder like the human body though, chiropractors perform skilled adjustment. There is a difference. Those other terms come from the sound your spine sometimes makes when it is adjusted. This sound is not the goal, though. The real objective is to restore proper function to restricted segments of the spine to improve movement and relieve pain. How exactly this works is the subject of another blog post!

The adjustment is generally very safe. The most common complications are some soreness or a mild headache afterward. Usually these resolve within 24 hrs and feel better than they did before treatment. When I say rare the research suggests anywhere from 10-20% of the time. Most people already have headache or soreness when they come in anyway so it’s kind of a wash. Serious complications are extremely rare and most chiropractors will go their entire career without an unfortunate event like that.

What ELSE Do Chiropractors Do?

Chiropractic is the 3rd largest health care profession in the United States, behind dentistry and allopathic (hospital) medicine. Some of us specialize in various aspects of health care including: public health, teaching, DOT examinations, nutrition, and sports medicine to name a few. For example, I have a Masters Degree in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine and I use this training often for my patients. I’ve also worked with the Oregon State University Athletic Department since 2012, helping to care for athletes. I’ve been a teacher at a massage school and a community college. The point here isn’t to toot my own horn, but rather to give you an idea of the broad scope of contributions chiropractors are making to our society.

So, what do chiropractors do? When people ask me this question my response is typically that I “help normal people feel extraordinary.” We improve the quality of life of people who range from suffering to just wanting to be and feel their best. That is my business… and business is good!