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Frequently Asked Questions About Chiropractic

Chiropractic care is a popular alternative treatment that focuses on the musculoskeletal system, particularly the spine, to alleviate pain and improve overall health. If you’re considering chiropractic treatment or have questions about this practice, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we will address some frequently asked questions to help you gain a better understanding of chiropractic care.

Q: What conditions do chiropractors treat?

A: Doctors of Chiropractic (DCs) provide care for patients of all ages who suffer from various health conditions. They are renowned for their expertise in managing back pain, neck pain, and headaches through skilled manipulations and adjustments. Additionally, chiropractors treat a wide range of injuries and disorders of the musculoskeletal system, which includes muscles, ligaments, and joints. These conditions often involve or affect the nervous system, leading to referred pain and dysfunction in areas beyond the injury site. Chiropractors also offer advice on diet, nutrition, exercise, healthy habits, and lifestyle modifications.

Q: How do I select a doctor of chiropractic?

A: When choosing a doctor of chiropractic (DC), it’s recommended to seek referrals from trusted sources such as friends, family members, colleagues, or other healthcare providers. You can also use the “Find a Doctor” search tool provided by the American Chiropractic Association (ACA) to locate a qualified DC in your area.

Q: Is chiropractic treatment safe?

A: Chiropractic care is widely recognized as one of the safest forms of non-drug, non-invasive healthcare for neuromusculoskeletal complaints. While chiropractic has an excellent safety record, no medical treatment is entirely free of potential adverse effects. However, the risks associated with chiropractic are minimal. Many patients experience immediate relief following treatment, while others may feel mild soreness, stiffness, or aching—similar to post-exercise sensations. Research shows that any discomfort or soreness after spinal manipulation typically subsides within 24 hours.

Precise cervical manipulation is employed to treat neck pain and certain types of headaches. This technique, often referred to as a neck adjustment, aims to enhance joint mobility in the neck, restore range of motion, and reduces muscle spasms, effectively alleviating pressure and tension. When performed by a skilled and educated professional like a doctor of chiropractic, neck manipulation is considered remarkably safe.

There have been reports linking high-velocity upper neck manipulation to a rare type of stroke called vertebral artery dissection. However, evidence suggests that such arterial injuries often occur spontaneously in individuals with pre-existing arterial disease. These dissections have been associated with everyday activities like turning the head while driving, swimming, or even having a shampoo at a hair salon. Patients with this condition may experience neck pain and headaches, leading them to seek professional care from a chiropractor or family physician. However, it’s important to note that chiropractic care is not the cause of the injury. The best evidence indicates that the incidence of artery injuries associated with high-velocity upper neck manipulation is extremely rare, occurring in only one to three cases per 100,000 patients receiving chiropractic care. This incidence is comparable to the general population’s stroke risk.

If you visit a chiropractor for upper-neck pain or headaches, make sure to provide specific details about your symptoms. This information will help your chiropractor offer the safest and most effective treatment, which may include a referral to another healthcare provider if necessary.

When considering the risks of any healthcare procedure, it’s essential to compare them with alternative treatments available for the same condition. In this context, the risks associated with spinal manipulation for conditions like neck pain and headaches are considerably lower than those of conservative care options. For instance, the risks linked to common musculoskeletal pain treatments such as over-the-counter or prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and painkillers are significantly greater than those of chiropractic manipulation.

Furthermore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the overuse and abuse of prescription opioid pain medications contribute to a significant number of accidental deaths in the United States. Chiropractors, as well-trained professionals, provide safe and effective care for a variety of common conditions. Their extensive education equips them to identify patients with specific risk factors and ensure that they receive the most appropriate care, including referral to medical specialists if needed.

Q: Does chiropractic treatment require a referral from an MD?

A: Generally, you do not need a referral to see a doctor of chiropractic (DC). However, it’s important to check the requirements of your health plan, as some may have specific referral guidelines. Contact your employer’s human resources department or the insurance plan directly to inquire about any referral requirements. In most cases, you can simply call and schedule an appointment with a chiropractor without the need for a referral.

Q: Is chiropractic treatment appropriate for children?

A: Yes, children can benefit from chiropractic care. Considering their high level of physical activity and the potential for falls and injuries during daily activities and sports participation, children may experience symptoms such as back and neck pain, stiffness, soreness, or discomfort. Chiropractic care is always tailored to meet the individual needs of the patient, including children. The treatments provided to children are gentle and adapted to their specific condition.

Q: Are chiropractors allowed to practice in hospitals or use medical outpatient facilities?

A: Yes, an increasing number of doctors of chiropractic are being recognized to admit and treat patients in hospitals and use outpatient clinical facilities. They can utilize resources such as labs and x-rays for their non-hospitalized patients. Chiropractors were first granted hospital privileges in 1983, which marked an important milestone for the profession.

Q: Do insurance plans cover chiropractic?

A: Absolutely. Chiropractic care is typically included in most health insurance plans, including major medical plans, workers’ compensation, Medicare, some Medicaid plans, and Blue Cross Blue Shield plans for federal employees, among others. Additionally, chiropractic care is available to active-duty members of the armed forces at over 60 military bases and to veterans at more than 60 major veterans medical facilities. These coverage options ensure that chiropractic care is accessible to a wide range of individuals.

Q: What type of education and training do chiropractors have?

A: Doctors of chiropractic receive extensive education and training to become primary-contact healthcare providers. They focus on diagnosing and treating conditions related to the musculoskeletal system, including the muscles, ligaments, joints of the spine, and extremities, as well as the nerves that supply them. The educational requirements for chiropractors are among the most stringent in the healthcare professions. Typically, applicants to chiropractic college have completed nearly four years of pre-medical undergraduate education, including courses in biology, inorganic and organic chemistry, physics, psychology, and related lab work.

Once accepted into an accredited chiropractic college, the requirements become even more demanding. Students undergo four to five academic years of professional study, which include in-depth learning in various areas such as orthopedics, neurology, physiology, human anatomy, clinical diagnosis, laboratory procedures, diagnostic imaging, exercise, nutrition, and rehabilitation. A significant portion of the curriculum is dedicated to clinical technique training, ensuring chiropractors are skilled in manipulation and adjusting techniques. In total, chiropractic college involves a minimum of 4,200 hours of classroom, laboratory, and clinical experience. The course of study is approved by the Council on Chiropractic Education, an accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

Q: How is a chiropractic adjustment performed?

A: A chiropractic adjustment, also known as manipulation, is a manual procedure that utilizes the refined skills developed during a chiropractor’s intensive years of education. Chiropractors typically use their hands or specialized instruments to manipulate the joints of the body, particularly the spine, to restore or enhance joint function. By doing so, joint inflammation can be reduced, and the patient’s pain can be alleviated. Chiropractic adjustments are highly controlled procedures that rarely cause discomfort. The chiropractor customizes the technique to meet the specific needs of each patient. Many patients report positive changes in their symptoms immediately following a chiropractic treatment.

Q: Is chiropractic treatment ongoing?

A: Yes, chiropractic treatment often requires multiple visits. The hands-on nature of chiropractic care necessitates patients to visit the chiropractor’s office. In contrast to a pre-established plan followed at home, as seen with certain medical treatments (such as taking antibiotics daily for a couple of weeks), chiropractic care may provide acute, chronic, and/or preventive care. The number of visits required varies based on the individual patient’s needs. Your chiropractor will recommend the extent of treatment and provide an estimate of its duration.

Q: Why is there a popping sound when a joint is adjusted?

A: When a joint is adjusted or manipulated, it can result in the release of a gas bubble between the joints, causing a popping sound. This phenomenon is similar to the sound produced when cracking your knuckles. The noise occurs due to a change in pressure within the joint, leading to the release of gas bubbles. In general, this process is not uncomfortable and causes minimal or no discomfort to the patient.

Conclusion

Chiropractic care offers a unique approach to healthcare by focusing on the musculoskeletal system and its connection to overall well-being. Chiropractors undergo rigorous education and training to provide effective and safe treatment options. With increasing recognition, chiropractors are now practicing in hospitals and utilizing medical outpatient facilities. Insurance plans commonly cover chiropractic care, ensuring its accessibility to a broad range of individuals. Chiropractic adjustments are performed through highly refined techniques, offering relief to patients with joint-related issues. The hands-on nature of chiropractic treatment often requires multiple visits, depending on the patient’s specific needs. The popping sound that occurs during adjustments is a natural result of gas bubble release and is usually not associated with discomfort.

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