Chiropractic is a form of health care that focuses on the relationship between the structure of the spine and the body’s function. Also called chiropractors or chiropractic physicians, they use a type of hands-on therapy consisting of manipulation of the bones and joints as their core clinical procedure. This career field manages to do quite well without calling a great deal of attention to itself, and if you are good with your hands and want to get into medical practice but want to specialize in a field and not take so much time in school, perhaps the chiropractic career is right for you.

How’d it start?
The word “chiropractic” combines the Greek words cheir (hand) and praxis (action) and means “doing it by hand.” Chiropractic is considered an alternative medical system and takes a different approach from conventional medicine in diagnosing, classifying, and treating medical problems.

Chiropractic has a long and distinguished lineage. Chiropractic was first described by Hippocrates in ancient Greece. Chiropractic came to us in it’s present-day form via Daniel David Palmer, who in 1895 founded the modern profession of chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa. Palmer was a student of healing philosophies of the day. It was his observation that the body has a natural healing ability that is controlled by the nervous system, that misalignments of the spine interfere with the body’s natural operation which itself was a concept borrowed from osteopathic traditions, and that one could develop a procedure to adjust the bones of the spinal column with the goal of correcting it’s setting.

What kind of training do I need?
Most chiropractic training is a four year academic course consisting of both classroom and clinical instruction. At least three years of preparatory college work are required for admission to most chiropractic schools. Students who graduate receive the degree of Doctor of Chiropractic and are eligible to take state license board examinations in order to practice. Some schools also offer postgraduate courses, including residency programs in specialized fields lasting two to three years.

Chiropractic practice is regulated individually on a state-by-state basis. Most states require chiropractors to earn continuing education credits in order to maintain their licenses. Chiropractors’ scope of practice varies by state. It can include performing laboratory tests or diagnostic procedures, the dispensing or selling of dietary supplements, and even the use of acupuncture or homeopathy. Chiropractors are not licensed in any state to perform major surgery or prescribe drugs.

Who is the typical patient?
About 200 million Americans visit chiropractors per year. Nearly half of those visits are to treat back or neck pain. Of these, some are chronic sufferers and some are the result of accidents. Conditions commonly treated by chiropractors include back pain, neck pain, headaches, sports injuries, and repetitive strain injuries. Patients also seek treatment of pain associated with other conditions, such as arthritis.

Low-back pain is a common medical problem, occurring in up to one-fourth of the population each year. Most people experience significant back pain at least once during their lifetime. Often, the cause of back pain is unknown, and it varies greatly in terms of how people experience it and how professionals diagnose it. This makes back pain challenging to study, given that the spine is such a complex system of bone, cartilage, and nerve tissue.

What kinds of treatments to chiropractors provide?
Typically, the chiropractor will perform a physical examination, with special emphasis on the spine, and possibly other diagnostic examinations such as Xrays. A treatment plan is then developed.

Treatment of the patient typically includes manipulation treatment. This is a manual therapy. Given mainly to the spine, chiropractic adjustments involve applying a controlled force to a joint. These are done to increase the range and quality of motion in the area being treated. Other health care professionals such as physical therapists, sports medicine doctors, orthopedists, physical medicine specialists, doctors of osteopathic medicine, and massage therapists perform various types of manipulation. However, chiropractors perform over 90 percent of manipulative treatments within the field.

Chiropractors may use other treatments in addition to adjustment, such as mobilization, massage, and non-manual treatments. These last may be any of heat and ice, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, rehabilitative exercise dietary supplements, or even acupuncture. A chiropractor may also provide counseling about diet, weight loss, and other lifestyle factors.

Is chiropractic regarded as “real” medicine?
It most definitely is for back and neck pain and treatment of migraine headaches. Clinical studies have reinforced that the treatment works. But chiropractic is still seen as an “alternative” medical practice, and some other medical fields regard the practice with some skepticism. Frequently this skepticism comes from the tendency for some practitioners to branch off into homeopathy, aromatherapy, magnetic therapy, and other fringe theory venues.

Because chiropractic practice is still fighting for acceptance, it is suggested that the chiropractor stick to the practice as “by the book” and only practice proven effective techniques. Leave the New Age stuff to the psychics.

Are there studies showing the effectiveness of chiropractic?
In 1998, a study of 10,652 Florida workers’ compensation cases was conducted. It was concluded that a claimant with a back-related injury, when initially treated by a chiropractor versus a medical doctor, is less likely to become temporarily disabled. If already disabled, the patient tends to remain disabled for a shorter period of time. Claimants treated by medical doctors were hospitalized at a much higher rate than claimants treated by chiropractors!

Going further back, a 1991 study of Oregon Workers’ Compensation Claims examined randomly selected workers’ compensation cases that involved disabling low-back injuries. It found that when individuals with similar injuries were compared, those who visited chiropractors generally missed fewer days of work than those who visited other kinds of doctors.

In 1989, a survey in the state of Washington concluded that patients receiving care from health maintenance organizations were three times as likely to report satisfaction with care from chiropractors as they were with care from other physicians. The patients were also more likely to believe that their chiropractor was concerned about them. This goes to show that the “hands-on” approach of chiropractic has at least some benefit.

Chiropractic study frequently focuses on treating the “whole patient” and getting to the root cause of a problem instead of merely treating the symptoms. This makes perfect sense to some minds and is only dimly grasped by others. Perhaps it takes a special kind of person to do chiropractic right. If you’re one of those people, a career as a chiropractor could prove to be a rewarding and successful choice.

Freelance writer for over eleven years.

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