Chiropractic is an approach to health care that tries to relieve pain through spinal manipulation. It is most often used for back or neck pain, and sometimes it is used for headaches or for pain in the arms or legs.
Spinal manipulation involves working on the head, shoulders, neck, back, or hips to help relieve pain. It can range from massage and slow pressing to a quick thrust.
Most doctors of chiropractic (chiropractors) take a natural approach to promoting health through lifestyle changes, nutrition, and exercise. Many chiropractors have extra training in physical rehabilitation and specific exercise therapy. Some also use nutritional analysis, herbal therapy, and acupuncture.
If you've never been to a chiropractor before, you may be a little worried about what will happen. Visiting a chiropractor for low back pain is actually simple, safe, and usually painless. And a visit to the chiropractor results in relief for many people.
Your first visit will be a lot like a first-time visit to any new doctor. It's likely to include:
- A health history.
You will probably fill out a form with questions about your health. The chiropractor may also ask more questions, such as whether you have headaches or migraines or sleeping problems. You also may be asked about your diet and your activity level.
- A physical exam.
The chiropractor may check your posture to look for things that aren't normal, such as one shoulder or hip that is higher than the other. The exam may also include a muscle test. This test involves pressing an arm or leg against the chiropractor's hand to test strength. You may also walk a short distance so that the chiropractor can check how you walk or other arm or leg movements.
You may also have an X-ray of your spine.
When the chiropractor has all the information, it's time to sit down with you and talk about treatment. If the treatment plan includes spinal manipulation, you could have it the same day or at a later appointment.
Chiropractic treatments usually involve spinal manipulation. The goal is to increase movement in the spinal joints and relax the muscles. Some chiropractors use heat, electrical stimulation, or ultrasound to help relax your muscles before doing spinal manipulation. Your chiropractor may teach you exercises you can do at home. Some chiropractors also offer advice on healthy lifestyle choices and nutrition.
Spinal manipulation normally doesn't hurt. If you're already in pain because of your back, it may hurt to move. But manipulation is aimed at making you feel better.
The most familiar type of spinal manipulation is the hands-on approach: You lie on a table while the health professional uses their hands or a device to apply pressure to an area of your spine. Some people call this "cracking" your back because of the popping sound that is sometimes made. But nothing is actually "cracking." The sound happens when the tissues of the spinal joint are stretched.
Some health professionals use a drop table for manipulations. Parts of the table drop slightly when the health professional presses down on your back. The table is noisy, but this method is actually very gentle.
Some health professionals use a handheld device called an activator to do spinal manipulations. This is also very gentle.
How to choose a chiropractor
Ask your friends for recommendations or look online. Find out what they do and don't like about their health professional and why. Check the background and education of providers you're interested in. It is sometimes helpful to have a visit to make sure you are comfortable with a provider's practice style.
Current as of: September 8, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine