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. It is sometimes used for headaches or for pain in the arms or legs.
Many chiropractors have extra training in physical rehabilitation and specific exercise therapy. Some also use nutritional analysis, herbal therapy, and acupuncture.
What does chiropractic treatment involve?
Chiropractic treatments usually involve spinal manipulation. Spinal manipulation is based on the theory that back pain is caused by problems with the muscles and other tissues of the spine and trunk. The manipulation can range from massage and slow pressing to a quick thrust. The goal is to increase movement in the joint and relax the muscles. Some chiropractors use heat, electrical stimulation, or ultrasound to help relax your muscles before doing a spinal adjustment.
Other types of treatment may include:
Some chiropractors use X-rays to help diagnose conditions.
Is chiropractic treatment safe?
Ask your chiropractor about risks. Side effects of treatment may include minor pain or discomfort after an adjustment, headaches, and fatigue. Most of these effects go away within a day.
Most chiropractors, physical therapists, and others who do this type of treatment will work with your medical doctor to make sure you are getting the right treatment.
In rare cases, problems such as cauda equina syndrome can occur when spinal manipulation is used. Manipulation is not recommended for people who have nerve-related problems that are very severe or getting worse.1, 2
What to expect from your visit
If you've never been to a chiropractor before, you may be a little worried about what will happen. But the fact is, visiting a chiropractor for low back pain is simple, safe, and usually painless.
And a visit to the chiropractor results in immediate 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:
You may also have an X-ray of your spine. Many chiropractors use X-rays to diagnose back problems. But not all chiropractors agree that the information gathered from an X-ray is valuable enough to make up for the radiation that the patient is exposed to.
When the chiropractor has all the information, it's time to sit down with you and talk about treatment. If the treatment plan includes an adjustment, you could have it the same day or at a later appointment.
What do spinal adjustments feel like?
The most familiar type of spinal adjustment is the hands-on approach: You lie on a table while the chiropractor uses his or her hands to feel for certain parts of your spine and then make quick, gentle pressing motions. 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 in question are stretched.
Spinal adjustments normally don't hurt. If you're already in pain because of your back, it may hurt to move. But the adjustments are aimed at making you feel better.
Some chiropractors use a drop table for adjustments. Parts of the table drop slightly when the chiropractor presses down on a patient's back. The table is noisy, but the adjustments are gentler than the hands-on method.
Some chiropractors use a hand-held tool called an activator to do spinal adjustments. This is even more gentle.
How to choose a chiropractor
Ask your medical doctor to help you find someone. Some medical doctors aren't willing to consider chiropractic treatment. If you and your doctor can't agree on how to treat your low back pain, you may want to consider getting a second opinion or finding another doctor who is more aware of the benefits of chiropractic treatment.
Try to interview one or two chiropractors before you start treatment.
Look for someone who:
Avoid someone who:
Chiropractors are not your only choice for providing spinal manipulation. Other practitioners who can do this include:
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