What is a Chiropractor?
A chiropractor is a health care professional focused on the diagnosis and treatment of neuromuscular disorders, with an emphasis on treatment through manual adjustment and/or manipulation of the spine.
Most chiropractors seek to reduce pain and improve the functionality of patients as well as to educate them on how they can account for their own health via exercise, ergonomics and other therapies to treat back pain.
Chiropractors: Fundamental Beliefs and Goals
Chiropractors focus on the intimate relationship between the nervous system and spine, and hold true the following beliefs:
- Biomechanical and structural derangement of the spine can affect the nervous system
- For many conditions, chiropractic treatment can restore the structural integrity of the spine, reduce pressure on the sensitive neurological tissue, and consequently improve the health of the individual.
The treatment concept of chiropractic is to re-establish normal spinal mobility, which in turn alleviates the irritation to the spinal nerve and/or re-establishes altered reflexes.
What Are the Benefits and Risks of Chiropractic Care?
Spinal manipulation and chiropractic care are generally considered safe, effective treatments for acute low back pain, the type of sudden injury that results from moving furniture or getting tackled. Acute back pain, which is more common than chronic pain, lasts no more than six weeks and typically gets better on its own.
Research has also shown chiropractic care to be helpful in treating neck pain and headaches. In addition, osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia may respond to the moderate pressure used both by chiropractors and practitioners of deep tissue massage.
Studies have not confirmed the effectiveness of prolotherapy or sclerotherapy for pain relief, used by some chiropractors, osteopaths, and medical doctors, to treat chronic back pain, the type of pain that may come on suddenly or gradually and lasts more than three months. The therapy involves injections such as sugar water or anesthetic in hopes of strengthening the ligaments in the back.
People who have osteoporosis, spinal cord compression, or inflammatory arthritis, or who take blood-thinning medications should not undergo spinal manipulation. In addition, patients with a history of cancer should first obtain clearance from their medical doctor before undergoing spinal manipulation.
All treatment is based on an accurate diagnosis of your back pain. The chiropractor should be well informed regarding your medical history, including ongoing medical conditions, current medications, traumatic/surgical history, and lifestyle factors. Although rare, there have been cases in which treatment worsened a herniated or slipped disc, or neck manipulation resulted in a spinal cord injury. To be safe, always check with your medical doctor to make sure your condition will benefit from chiropractic or other pain relief alternatives.
What do chiropractors attempt to heal?
A majority of a chiropractor’s work involves making adjustments to heal:
- lower back pain
- whiplash-related conditions
- neck pain
They may also provide services such as postural testing and analysis, as well as others designed to promote nutrition and healthful exercise.
Does it work?
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health in the U.S., chiropractic therapy is the type most commonly used for back pain. An estimated 74 percent of Americans with pain in this area have used chiropractic care at some point in their treatment.
Results of a 2010 review cited by the center suggest that spinal manipulation may be useful for treating back pain, migraine headaches, whiplash, and other conditions affecting the upper and lower extremities.
Like other forms of treatment, chiropractic care will not benefit all injuries. Sessions should be tailored to a person’s needs and performed by a licensed chiropractor.
Should you see a chiropractor for low back pain?
If you’ve ever seen a doctor for back pain, you’re not alone. An estimated 85% of people experience back pain severe enough to see a doctor for at some point in their life. Yet despite how common it is, the precise cause of pain is often unclear. And a single, best treatment for most low back pain is unknown. For these reasons, doctors’ recommendations tend to vary. “Standard care” includes a balance of rest, stretching and exercise, heat, pain relievers, and time. Some doctors also suggest trying chiropractic care. The good news is that no matter what treatment is recommended, most people with a recent onset of back pain are better within a few weeks — often within a few days.
What’s the role of chiropractic care?
Some doctors refer back pain sufferers to a physical therapist right away. But many people with back pain see acupuncturists, massage therapists, or a chiropractor on their own. Experts disagree about the role of chiropractic care, and there are not many high-quality studies to consult about this approach. As a result, there are a number of questions regarding the role of chiropractic care: Should it be a routine part of initial care? Should it be reserved for people who don’t improve with other treatments? Are some people more likely to improve with chiropractic care than others?
The answers to these questions go beyond any academic debate about how good chiropractic care is. Estimates suggest that low back pain costs up to $200 billion a year in the US (including costs of care and missed work), and it’s a leading cause of disability worldwide. With the backdrop of the opioid crisis, we badly need an effective, safe, and non-opioid alternative to treat low back pain.
Chiropractor Or Osteopath: Who Should You See?
Some people choose to see a chiropractor or osteopath for their back pain. Both types of doctors believe that having a healthy spine is very important for the overall health and integrity of the entire body.
But there are some fundamental differences as well. Before choosing which professional to see, it is helpful to understand how the two are similar, and how they are different.
The discipline of chiropractic care was founded in 1895. Chiropractors focus on paying attention to biomechanics. They believe the structure of the spine, and how well it functions, affects the musculoskeletal and neurological system.
Chiropractors treat pain (and sometimes other problems) by manipulating the spine. They make “adjustments” to put the spine back into alignment. Chiropractors believe that if the spine is in proper alignment, the body will be able to heal itself. Chiropractors are not medically trained, and they do not prescribe medications
Osteopathy was founded in the 1870s. It focuses on the relationship between the musculoskeletal system and overall health. According to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, “Osteopathic medicine is a distinctive form of medical care founded on the philosophy that all body systems are interrelated and dependent upon one another for good health.”
Both osteopaths trained in America and European osteopaths call themselves DOs. However, American-trained osteopaths are Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine, while European practitioners have a Diploma of Osteopathy. American-trained osteopaths can prescribe medications and have full medical practice rights both in the United States and in 44 other countries. Osteopaths that have a Diploma of Osteopathy cannot prescribe medication but mostly focus on spinal manipulation techniques.
A chiropractor or osteopath will have the same philosophy that spinal health influences your overall health. They believe that working on the spine optimizes the operation of the nervous system and improves blood flow to body systems. To accomplish this, they manipulate joints and sometimes massage muscles and tissue.
Their primary goal is to relieve aches and pains in the body. They sometimes have secondary goals such as addressing problems with circulation, digestion, or headaches. Their diagnosis process mainly involves observing and touching the back.
- Chiropractors mainly focus on the alignment of the spine. They believe this relieves pain by preventing pinched nerves or any other compromise of the nervous system. Osteopaths, on the other hand, look more at the whole body and focus on its structure.
- Osteopaths tend to treat a broader range of disorders, while most chiropractors focus on muscle and joint pain.
- Chiropractors often make use of tests such as x-rays and MRI scans. Some even have x-ray machines in their office. Osteopaths rely more on their own physical examination and generally refer patients out if they feel more diagnostic procedures are required.
- Osteopaths usually use a greater variety of techniques to manipulate the body’s healing systems. They may do more muscle and soft tissue work or manipulate other joints in the body. Chiropractors mainly focus on adjustments to the vertebrae of the spine.
As far as appointment length, chiropractic visits tend to be shorter. They focus on getting the patient adjusted and then back out the door. Osteopaths may spend more time talking to their patient since they have a broader approach. This also means that chiropractors may see patients more frequently, while osteopaths spread their treatments out more.
Making a Decision
Deciding to see a chiropractor or osteopath is a personal choice. You have to think about what problem you are hoping to address and then decide which type of practitioner might best treat it. How complicated is your problem? Is it mostly with your back, or are you having trouble with other joints and tissues as well? Based on these answers, choose the practitioner that seems to be the best fit.