If you're thinking about going to a chiropractor for care, you may wonder: does chiropractic work? You may have heard people telling you about wonderful experiences with their chiropractor, or conversely, you may have heard negative things about chiropractic. Some physicians recommend chiropractors and work well in concert with them, while others have negative things to say about this type of healthcare. Here's a deeper dive into the question, so you can decide for yourself if going to a chiropractor really works.
Asking if Chiropractic really works in today's modern world is a bit like asking if medicine really works. There is a broad range of services offered by chiropractors, and it goes beyond the basics that make up the initial essentials of chiropractic care.
Chiropractic originated as a way to ameliorate or cure various conditions in the body that were related to problems with the spine, posture, and related joints. Depending on how they were trained and their experience as clinicians, chiropractors can use a range of different techniques to manipulate the body, particularly the neck and back, to relieve pain, eliminate numbness and tingling in the arms and hands, and improve range of motion, among other things.
Many chiropractors do this every day, and their patients swear by the results. There were chiropractors, however, especially in the early days of chiropractic popularity, who took this too far and attempted to use chiropractic to treat conditions that in most cases cannot be affected by true traditional chiropractic treatment modalities.
Additionally, even when using chiropractic methods to treat issues that do respond to chiropractic care, some chiropractors are not careful in their handling of the body and may be too rough or too forceful. Because they are not medical doctors, they may not be aware of other conditions affecting the patient, and in some instances, chiropractic treatment can actually have harmful or even fatal effects on the patient. It is largely for these reasons that chiropractic has earned a negative reputation in some quarters.
Beyond traditional chiropractic treatment that involves manipulating the spine, chiropractors today use a range of other technologies (see below) to enhance their patient care. While some of these advances are really based on ancient methods of care, like hydrotherapy, there are others, like electrical muscular stimulation, that are based on current scientific research and that are well-studied. When applied properly, these new treatments add another level of relief for patients and are quite effective. Some of them are used in conventional medicine by practitioners like orthopaedists as well.
Assessing the efficacy of chiropractors as an entire group is, therefore, a bit like comparing general practitioners in conventional medicine to specialists, such as sports medicine doctors or rheumatologists. You can't simply lump them all into one group and say they all work or they all do not.
Are there studies that evaluate the efficacy of chiropractic care? Yes, but the data is conflicting. While there are studies that concluded that chiropractic was not effective, there are just as many that show it does work. One area of chiropractic studies that is often overlooked is the cost-effectiveness of chiropractic versus more traditional treatments, and in many cases, chiropractic is more economical for the patient.
As well as studies the demonstrated that chiropractic was not effective in some instances, there have been legal cases that have shown that chiropractic was actually harmful to certain patients. In these instances, it was not necessarily the technique itself that was harmful, but rather the extreme degree to which it was practiced, lack of education on the part of the chiropractor, or incomplete assessment or lack of knowledge about the patient, who had another condition unknown to the chiropractor that was exacerbated in a negative way by chiropractic treatment.
In some instances, the results of studies about chiropractic depended on what type of symptoms were being treated by the chiropractor being evaluated. If you are looking for a chiropractor to treat a particular condition, it makes sense then to both talk to any prospective chiropractors and ask them about their experience with your condition and if possible, to do a little bit of reading on your own to see if you can find literature that backs up the efficacy of chiropractic to treat your particular problem.
Just like in the medical world, chiropractors are required to complete certain basic training and perform a practicum in which they learn how to apply their training to live patients. And just like with conventional medical doctors, some chiropractors extend their training by completing continuing education courses, reading new research, and learning about new diagnostic and treatment technology.
Sadly, there are some chiropractors in practice today who have not completed the required education for their profession but who have set up shop and continue to see patients. These are the most egregious violators of both legal and moral rules surrounding patient care.
As a patient considering chiropractic care, it is advisable to do your due diligence and check out the credentials of any chiropractor you wish to see. Ask about their training and how they stay current with their profession, and whenever possible look for patient reviews or word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and even physicians or other practitioners in conventional medicine. A chiropractor who is highly recommended or affiliated with a hospital or medical center is always a better bet than someone you don't know or a discount chiropractor who may have a sketchy educational background.
As mentioned above, there is a wealth of new technology available to chiropractors today, just as there is in conventional medicine. Depending on what is being treated, the efficacy of chiropractic may be enhanced by using some of these new technologies.
Additionally, diagnostic methods that were previously only available to traditional medical doctors are now being widely used by chiropractors. The beauty of these diagnostic technologies is that they can give chiropractors a baseline for comparison purposes.
For example, taking medical images, such as radiographs or an MRI scan, when the patient first arrives for treatment lets the chiropractor know what they are dealing with. Then, as treatment progresses, subsequent images can be taken to see if chiropractic treatment has been effective and to assess changes in the body that would indicate positive progress for the patient. Just as an orthopedist might take an x-ray of a broken arm when the patient first presents, and another x-ray a few months later to see if the bone has healed, a chiropractor can use similar images to check the alignment of the spine for things like herniated discs causing unpleasant symptoms for the patient.
Some of the new technology available to chiropractors, or technology that has been around for a while but is now considered more standard in chiropractic include:
Radiography can include traditional x-rays as well as CT scans, also known as computerized tomography. These images are ideal for getting a baseline when you first start chiropractic treatment, so your chiropractor can assess progress by comparing your first images to ones taken later.
MRI scans, as you probably know, are more expensive in most instances than radiography, however, they generally give a more complete image and can be used for a wider range of patient conditions. In some cases, an MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, is the only way to diagnose the problem, which isn't visible on traditional radiographs.
Chiropractors often use thermography as an alternative to x-rays and CT scans for patients who prefer not to be exposed to radiation. Thermography essentially creates a heat map of the body and can be used to assess problems with nerves and soft tissue.
If you're having a muscular problem, your chiropractor may recommend electromyography. This diagnostic technique examines electrical activity in the muscles of the body, which can be helpful if you have had a loss of function due to spinal problems, either through nerve injury or irritation or reduced mobility due to pain.
The most popular form of electrical muscular stimulation is the TENS unit, which is a portable device that attaches to the body and provides a small amount of stimulation to soft tissue to alleviate pain and improve range of motion. This type of treatment is frequently used in conventional medicine as well, often by physical therapists who work alongside orthopaedists, rheumatologists, and neurologists.
Diathermy is a type of heat therapy that some chiropractors use to augment standard treatment at the end of the session. Heat therapy is very well studied and is considered effective for many types of musculoskeletal problems. In this instance, electrodes are placed on the body to conduct heat from a machine, so that the heat can be directed to specific areas, usually on the back. Diathermy is simply a high-tech way to deliver heat In a targeted way.
Hydrotherapy is a generic term for any type of water therapy, which has been well-studied for centuries and which many people find therapeutic. Your chiropractor may recommend hydrotherapy in the form of baths, wraps, or saunas.
Ultrasound therapy directs ultrasonic waves at the body to relieve muscle tension, stiffness, and pain. Like electrical muscular stimulation, ultrasound therapy is also used in conventional medicine. You may have had ultrasound therapy if you've ever visited a sports medicine doctor.
Laser treatment is a newer therapy that, as the name implies, uses lasers directed at very small areas of the body. Because lasers can be adjusted to direct a pulse of light within fractions of an inch, laser treatment is highly targeted therapy for tough-to-reach areas, especially joints.
Chiropractors have been using adjustment tables for decades, much like massage therapists. However, new adjustment tables have features that allow chiropractors to not only make patients more comfortable but to improve their treatment. Some tables are equipped with special rollers, while others allow chiropractors to measure adjustments within a very small range for highly specific treatment.
In addition to computerized adjustment tables, there are handheld adjustment tools that chiropractors can use that also allow them to make adjustments within a minute range of measurement. The benefit of computerized adjustment, when used properly, is that your chiropractor can provide just the amount of adjustment that you need without over manipulating the body, thereby reducing the risk of injury.
Many of the above technologies are very well studied within traditional medicine, so we know that when used properly, they work. If your chiropractor suggests using one of these diagnostic or treatment elements for you, ask why and what the benefits are. While they may cost extra, in addition to enhanced treatment, you may be getting the benefit of well-researched technology, so you can rest assured that your treatment will be as effective as possible for your particular condition.
Of course, your personal response to chiropractic treatment is the most important determinant of whether it works or not. If you respond well to chiropractic care, it works for you. If you experience any negative effects from chiropractic, it's important to tell your chiropractor right away. If your chiropractor is not responsive to your complaints, it's time to find a new practitioner or to perhaps use a different treatment method.
Be sure to give your chiropractic treatments long enough to work. In most cases, chiropractic isn't an instant fix for what's bothering you, and you will need to have at least several treatments to experience relief. Because progress can be slow sometimes, it can be hard to tell if you're getting better. So, it can be helpful to keep a log or journal, noting your symptoms and even using a pain scale of one to 10 to see if you're feeling better. You may find that, as the weeks go on, you are indeed experiencing less pain or other symptoms.
Just like with conventional medicine, chiropractic offers a wide range of services given by practitioners with varying degrees of skill, education, and technology. To see if chiropractic might be the right therapy for you, get in touch with True Spine Chiropractic today. We will answer your questions about chiropractic care and tell you about how our particular methods might benefit your condition. Does seeing a chiropractor really work? You may want to try it for yourself to see.