Of the various alternative healing systems available ill the United States, chiropractic is by far the most popular. The more than 50,000 licensed doctors of chiropractic (D.Cs) make up the nation’s third largest medical profession, after M.D.’s and dentists. And they’re licensed to practice in every state.

According to a landmark Harvard Medical School survey assessing Americans’ use of alternative therapies, 10 percent of the population visits chiropractors at least once a year. People rate chiropractic as their first choice for treating back problems. Overall, it is the second most popular professionally provided alternative therapy-second only to relaxation therapies.

A handful of chiropractors present them­selves as primary-care physicians capable of treating the same broad range of conditions as family practice M.D.’s. But the vast majority of chiropractors deal almost exclusively with back problems, joint problems, and muscle aches and pains-what doctors batch together as “musculoskeletal complaints.” As many as 90 percent of people who consult chiropractors do so for back pain, neck pain, and headaches (which are often related to muscle tension).

The word chiropractic comes from the Greek cheir, meaning “hand;’ and praxis, meaning “practice.” As a system of treatment, chiropractic is the best example of the mainstreaming of alternative therapies. Chiropractors now serve on the staffs of many hospitals around the country. They’ve become a fixture in sports medicine-in fact, the U.S. Olympic team has its own chiropractor.

Many M.D.’s are quite familiar with the benefits of chiropractic and willingly refer patients to chiropractors when it seems appropriate. In a study by Daniel 1. Blumberg, M.D., of the department of psychiatry at the State University of New York Health Science Center at Syracuse, the majority of primarycare M.D.’s recognized chiropractic as an effective therapy for back pain and said that they would feel comfortable sending patients with back pain to chiropractors for treatment.

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