These days it is increasingly common for people who suffer from chronic pain or an injury to seek chiropractic treatment. But what is a chiropractic adjustment, a common technique that chiropractors use, and how do they work?
Doctors who perform chiropractic adjustments
Doctors of chiropractic (DC) are highly trained medical doctors who complete specialized training culminating in a series of four board examinations and completion of requirements to be certified in the state in which they practice.
There are currently approximately 77,000 DCs practicing in the U.S., with another 10,000 chiropractic students working towards degrees in 18 accredited chiropractic schools across the country. Doctors of chiropractic complete a minimum of 4,200 hours of classroom study, laboratory work, and internships. This is the equivalent of the number of hours spent for an allopathic doctor (MD) or an osteopath (DO). Every year, 2,500 graduating students enter the workforce as doctors of chiropractic care, either joining an established practice or starting a practice of their own. Doctors of chiropractic treat an estimated 27 million adults and children annually in the U.S. and are on staff of all 32 teams in the National Football League (NFL).
In Arizona, chiropractors practice a drug-free, hands-on approach to healthcare that includes patient examination, diagnosis and treatment, but excludes prescription medication. Chiropractors have broad diagnostic skills and can have advanced board certifications in physiotherapy rehabilitative exercises and treatment modalities, as well as acupuncture and other alternative modalities. Chiropractors are well trained to provide nutritional, dietary, and lifestyle counseling in relation to symptoms as well.
People feel strongly about conservative chiropractic care – both positively and negatively. As the chiropractic profession has evolved, however, this form of care has been widely accepted in the medical community because of its effectiveness and safety in treating pain. More than ever, patients are coming to chiropractors to seek relief from pain.
The basics of chiropractic care
Chiropractic is a healthcare profession that focuses on disorders of the neuromusculoskeletal system. Modern chiropractors use the best scientific, non-drug related treatments to treat muscles and joints. Chiropractic care is used most commonly to treat low back pain, neck pain, pain in the joints of the shoulders, knees and hips, and headaches.
Treatment is hands-on, drug-free, and complex. Doctors will take a detailed health history, including family history and details of the current injury if applicable. After taking health history and answering any questions the patient might have, doctors may also recommend X-rays or an MRI to confirm that chiropractic care is appropriate. If a patient is experiencing loss of strength or lack of reflexive response, a chiropractor may refer the patient to a spine surgeon to get more information.
Once all of these steps are complete, treatment can begin. This may seem like an arduous process, but doctors of chiropractic are most concerned with the health, well-being, and recovery of their patients. When dealing with the delicate structures of the spine, it is important that special care be taken before beginning.
What is a chiropractic adjustment?
The most common kind of chiropractic care is referred to as spinal manipulation therapy (SMT) or a chiropractic adjustment. The Mayo Clinic defines a chiropractic adjustment as:
“A procedure in which trained specialists (chiropractors) use their hands or a small instrument to apply a controlled, sudden force to a spinal joint. The goal of chiropractic adjustment, also known as spinal manipulation, is to correct structural alignment and improve your body’s physical function.”
In this type of work, doctors apply controlled force in a very specific way to restore mobility in the joints. Sometimes the patient will hear a popping noise as the spine is adjusted, but this is no cause for alarm. This popping is caused by the release of small pockets of air trapped in the joints, similar to what one might hear when cracking the knuckles.
In the following video, our own Dr. Kibler demonstrates how a chiropractic adjustment is performed. This can give you a better idea of what to expect before going into your first appointment, as well as alleviate any concerns you may have.
Benefits of chiropractic adjustment
When vertebrae become misaligned, they can place pressure on the spinal nerves and cause pain. This condition is known as spinal dysfunction, vertebral restriction, or subluxation. This can occur as a result of a tissue injury caused by a single traumatic event, such as improper lifting of a heavy object, or through repetitive stresses such as sitting with poor spinal posture for an extended period of time. These type of injuries to the joints and surrounding muscles cause physical and chemical changes that can result in inflammation, pain, and diminished function for the patient. Chiropractic adjustment of the affected joint and tissues restores mobility, thereby alleviating pain and muscle tightness and allowing tissues to heal.
Most patients will feel immediate relief after treatment, but there is the chance of minor soreness in the area of treatment. This soreness should subside quickly after treatment and is not a serious side effect.
Types of chiropractic adjustments
We have a more in-depth article that discusses the common types of chiropractic adjustment. You can read that full article here.
That post covers techniques including:
- Direct thrust technique
- Spinal mobilization
- Myofascial release
- Muscle energy technique
- Indirect positional technique
- Cervical spine manipulation
- Functional technique
What is a chiropractic neck adjustment?
Medical intervention and drugs aren’t the only treatments for persistent neck pain. If you’ve been feeling the effects of long-term neck problems that not only make you uncomfortable but also affect your quality of life, you may want to consider chiropractic neck adjustments. Many aspects of our daily lives can affect the natural positions of our neck. Simply sitting at a computer for work all day can throw off the balance of our bodies. Chiropractic neck adjustments can readjust and relieve problems in the neck.
Before a chiropractic adjustment for the neck, your chiropractor will ask you several questions regarding the pain that you are experiencing. These include:
- What were you doing when you began to feel the pain?
- How long has this been going on?
- Are you experiencing pain in other parts of your body?
- What have you already tried for reducing the pain?
Chiropractic treatment to help restore normal range of motion and reduce pain in your neck may occur over an extended period of time. Several chiropractic neck adjustments may be necessary before you find yourself back to normal. Your doctor may also recommend ongoing adjustments to prevent any further pain or damage from occurring.
Dr. Strubbe, a chiropractor in Florida, shows how a chiropractic neck adjustment is done in the following video.
Safety of chiropractic adjustment
Chiropractic adjustments are safe, effective, and generally free of side effects. In fact, recent studies have shown that patients with back pain have a higher chance of more serious side effects (including gastrointestinal bleeding) when taking over-the-counter (OTC) non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. According to a study from the American Journal of Gastroenterology, approximately one-third of all hospitalizations and deaths related to gastrointestinal bleeding can be attributed to the use of aspirin, or NSAID painkillers.
Chiropractic adjustment is widely recognized as one of the safest non-invasive therapies available for the treatment of neuro-musculoskeletal complaints. Chiropractic has an excellent safety record, but almost all treatments have the potential for adverse effects. Many patients feel immediate relief following chiropractic treatment, but some may experience mild soreness or aching, just as they do after some forms of exercise. Current research shows if patients experience minor discomfort or soreness following chiropractic adjustment, it typically fades within 24 hours.
There has been some concern over the technique of high-velocity neck manipulation and its connection to a certain type of stroke. Research has since proven that this stroke is more often connected to an activity that occurred prior to the patient seeking chiropractic treatment. Injury to the vertebral artery as a direct result of high-velocity neck manipulation is extraordinarily rare. It occurs in only one case out of every 5.85 million manipulations.
Spine-Health discusses what patients can expect before they even enter the clinic room for a chiropractic adjustment. This video, and all videos on this post, are meant to make you more comfortable with the exact processes that occur during a chiropractic adjustment. However, always remember to ask your doctor if you have any more questions or concerns before undergoing a chiropractic adjustment.
Efficacy of chiropractic care
So chiropractic adjustment is safe, but is it effective? Mounting evidence proves that chiropractic care is one of the most effective treatments for all types of back pain. Here are just a few of the latest research findings regarding the effectiveness of chiropractic adjustment.
- A person who seeks chiropractic treatment after an injury to the lumbar (low back) region of the spine before seeking treatment with an allopathic doctor is much less likely to have spinal surgery.
- In a study published in The Spine Journal, researchers reviewed 699 studies of chiropractic adjustment treatments as compared to other types of treatments that included exercise, medication, mobilization, and sham (placebo) treatments. Researchers found that five to ten sessions of spinal manipulation therapy over two to four weeks was just as effective as other treatments, if not more. Unlike other treatments in the studies, there were no side effects reported for spinal manipulation.
- A large-scale consumer survey carried out by Consumer Reports found that chiropractic adjustment outperformed all other treatments for back pain. This includes outperforming traditional prescription medications in managing pain.
- Researchers from the University of Florida found that patients who received spinal manipulation experienced less pain as a direct result of their treatment. Study participants with low back pain were assigned to one of four groups: SMT, placebo SMT, enhanced placebo SMT (when patients were told they would be receiving either SMT or a placebo), or no treatment. Participants reported on their pain, including any changes in pain sensation during the session. Enhanced placebo SMT was the most effective treatment, and researchers believe these results are directly related to the care itself.
If you’re interested in learning even more about the benefits of chiropractic adjustment, Dr. Axe discusses the top ten chiropractic studies and research on his website.
Final thoughts on chiropractic adjustment
While not directly related to the efficacy of treatment, the cost of care is an important aspect of treatment for back pain, especially when that treatment is long-term for chronic back pain. A claims analysis of all of the fully insured patients with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee found that patients who initiated care with a doctor of chiropractic rather than an allopathic doctor had 40% lower paid-for costs (the costs that come directly from a patient’s pocket).
Chiropractic care can provide immediate and long-term relief, with fewer known side effects than both pharmaceutical and invasive options for pain care. For more information about chiropractic care and a list of doctors of chiropractic nationally, visit the American Chiropractic Association.
If you’re ready to find relief for your back pain, neck pain, or other chronic pain condition, a chiropractic adjustment can be a very effective and safe alternative to your current chronic pain treatment plan. We recommend looking for a well-respected chiropractor in your community who can help. As we noted in our post on finding a chiropractor:
“One of the most difficult parts of receiving chiropractic care is locating a qualified chiropractor near you. This can be daunting. Simply going online to find a list of names doesn’t help you to know if the chiropractor you choose is going to work for you. There are some easy steps to take, however, when asking ‘how to find a chiropractor near me?'”
That post discusses the steps to take to find a chiropractor near you. For Arizona patients, we definitely recommend reaching out to one of our doctors for a consultation today!
Chiropractic adjustment is safe, effective, and affordable. Have you or someone you love sought treatment with a chiropractor for back pain?