Chiropractic is a system of treatment based on the belief that :he foundation of good health is the unhampered flow of nerve impulses that originate in the brain and spinal cord and then travel to all parts of the body. Therapy begins with analyzing the patient’s spinal column for abnormal alignments of the vertebrae. When such misalignments, called subluxations, are located, they are corrected by manipulation co restore the normal flow of nerve impulses. Many chiro practors also make recommendations about nutrition and exercise, but they do not prescribe drugs or do surgery.


Energetic hands on therapy was widely practiced by ancient healers, and manipulation of the backbone is still common in a number of cultures. In an independent movement in the United States, a systematic method of spinal manipulation was developed at the end of the 19th century by a healer in Iowa named Daniel David Palmer. In 1895, he gained local fame by curing a janitor’s deafness when he manipulated a displaced vertebra. Following this success, Palmer devoted himself to refining his method of spinal treatments.

One of Palmer’s early patients described his technique as chiropractic," Greek for "accomplished by hand." The word caught on and The Palmer Infirmary and Chiropractic Institute was established in Davenport, Iowa, as a teaching .and treatment center. In 1913, the year that Palmer died, kansas became the first state to license chiropractic healers,

It is only in recent years and as a result of court battles and congressional hearings that this alternative therapy has overcome charges of quackery by the medical establishment. ‘While it is not unusual for physicians such as orthopedists and rehabilitation specialists to refer patients to a chiropractor, there are still many mainstream doctors who feel that this treatment has the potential for doing more harm than good.

Even so, chiropractic seems to be attracting more patients than ever, due to an increase in sports injuries and the recengrowth in musculoskeletal problems resulting from working at computers. Visits are now covered by Medicare, Medicaid,and many other health insurance plans. In addition, the American Hospital Association has made some facilities at member hospitals available to qualified practitioners,


Chiropractors are licensed in all 50 states and there are some 20 chiropractic colleges nationwide. Graduates hold a doctor of chiropractic, or D.C. degree. Studies stress the biomedical sciences and provide training in manipulation techniques. Some liberal arts colleges also offer a bachelor’s degree in chiropractic, after which graduate study at a chiropractic college is required. Of the approximately 50,000 chiropractors in the United States, about half belong to the American Chiropractic Association, the profession’s largest organization. Years ago, many chiropractors believed spinal manipulation to be the preferred treatment for virtually every ailment. In recent decades, most have come to recognize the limitations of their therapy; they see their work as yet another way to deal with health problems. The majority of chiropractors consider themselves "mixers," who provide a holistic service that includes counseling about nutrition, exercise, and other lifestyle issues in addition to manipulations. A minority are "straight who follow a strict philosophy of musculoskeletal adjustments.

When It Is Used

Most people consult a chiropractor because of pain that appears to originate in the musculoskeletal system, usually the neck and/or back. For some patients, the pain has come on suddenly, resulting from an injury on the job, in an automobile accident, or while participating in a sport. For others, the pain may be chronic, perhaps the cumulative effect of years of poor posture, a sedentary lifestyle, and increasing weight. Still others may be suffering from job related muscle and skeletal problems, such as repetitive stress injuries. Individuals with vague, persistent symptoms such as fatigue and headaches also consult chiropractors for both spinal manipulation and counseling on nutrition and exercise.

How It Works

The spinal cord gives rise to 31 pairs of spinal nerves, which carry messages to and from the brain and to all parts of the body. These spinal nerves pass through openings in the vertebrae, and when the progress of a nerve is impeded, it is said to be "pinched." The problem may be the result of an injury, a muscle spasm, a slipped (ruptured) vertebral disk, spinal arthritis, or some other structural abnormality. With X rays plus a hands on exploration of the spine, the chiropractor tries to locate the vertebrae that need realignment. The chiropractic method is most successful in cases in which it is possible to restore normal joint movement by improving anatomical relationships. The intimate hands on approach may also have a positive effect on healing. Many practitioners believe that chiropractic can be most effective in treating acute pain of recent onset, before it has reached a chronic stage. Some researchers theorize that when pain is allowed to become chronic, the body loses its ability to produce endorphins, body chemicals that act as natural painkillers. This theory is based on the notion that long term overstimulation of nerves, which occurs in chronic pain, prevents them from triggering production of painkilling chemicals.

What To Expect

A visit to a chiropractor involves many of the same steps as a visit to a traditional physician. The evaluation begins with taking the patient’s medical history, including questions about symptoms, past illnesses and injuries, and stresses from one’s job or other situations. This is followed by a physical examination that includes blood pressure measurement, orthopedic and postural testing, a study of posture and spinal motion, and a series of X rays. Most of these procedures may take up the entire first visit. Before the second visit, the practitioner has evaluated all this information and is ready to start treatment. To begin, the patient lies down on a specially designed table. Muscles may be energetically massaged before manipulative techniques are used for spinal adjustment, which often produces a popping sound similar to that of cracking your knuckles. Because certain manipulative techniques involve quick, rapid motion, some transient discomfort may be experienced, especially in acute cases. Sometimes electrical devices are employed that produce muscle fatigue to alleviate muscle spasms. Moist heat may also be applied, especially if there are muscle spasms. When it’s appropriate, a supportive collar, brace, or sling may be recommended for use between treatments. Most sessions last no longer than 45 minutes, and the number of sessions depends on the nature of the problem.

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