Chiropractic is a form of alternative medicine mostly concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of mechanical disorders of the musculoskeletal system, especially the spine. Proponents claim that such disorders affect general health via the nervous system, through vertebral subluxation, claims which are demonstrably false. The main chiropractic treatment technique involves manual therapy, especially spinal manipulation therapy (SMT), manipulations of other joints and soft tissues. Its foundation is at odds with mainstream medicine, and chiropractic is sustained by pseudoscientific ideas such as subluxation and "innate intelligence" that reject science. Chiropractors are not medical doctors.
In the U.S., chiropractors perform over 90% of all manipulative treatments. Satisfaction rates are typically higher for chiropractic care compared to medical care, with a 1998 U.S. survey reporting 83% of respondents satisfied or very satisfied with their care; quality of communication seems to be a consistent predictor of patient satisfaction with chiropractors.
At each vertebral level, a pair of spinal nerves exit through small openings called foramina (one to the left and one to the right). These nerves serve the muscles, skin and tissues of the body and thus provide sensation and movement to all parts of the body. The delicate spinal cord and nerves are further supported by strong muscles and ligaments that are attached to the vertebrae.
Serious research to test chiropractic theories did not begin until the 1970s, and is continuing to be hampered by antiscientific and pseudoscientific ideas that sustained the profession in its long battle with organized medicine. By the mid 1990s there was a growing scholarly interest in chiropractic, which helped efforts to improve service quality and establish clinical guidelines that recommended manual therapies for acute low back pain. In recent decades chiropractic gained legitimacy and greater acceptance by medical physicians and health plans, and enjoyed a strong political base and sustained demand for services. However, its future seemed uncertain: as the number of practitioners grew, evidence-based medicine insisted on treatments with demonstrated value, managed care restricted payment, and competition grew from massage therapists and other health professions. The profession responded by marketing natural products and devices more aggressively, and by reaching deeper into alternative medicine and primary care.
Holism assumes that health is affected by everything in an individual's environment; some sources also include a spiritual or existential dimension. In contrast, reductionism in chiropractic reduces causes and cures of health problems to a single factor, vertebral subluxation. Homeostasis emphasizes the body's inherent self-healing abilities. Chiropractic's early notion of innate intelligence can be thought of as a metaphor for homeostasis.
Attached to the back of each vertebral body is an arch of bone that forms a continuous hollow longitudinal space, which runs the whole length of the back. This space, called the spinal canal, is the area through which the spinal cord and nerve bundles pass. The spinal cord is bathed in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and surrounded by three protective layers called the meninges (dura, arachnoid and pia mater).
Chiropractic was developed by Daniel David Palmer, a self-taught healer in Davenport, Iowa. Palmer wanted to find a cure for disease and illness that did not use drugs. He studied the structure of the spine and the ancient art of moving the body with the hands (manipulation). Palmer started the Palmer School of Chiropractic, which still exists today.
There is a wide range of ways to measure treatment outcomes. Chiropractic care, like all medical treatment, benefits from the placebo response. It is difficult to construct a trustworthy placebo for clinical trials of spinal manipulative therapy (SMT), as experts often disagree about whether a proposed placebo actually has no effect. The efficacy of maintenance care in chiropractic is unknown.
Age, injury, poor posture or diseases such as arthritis can lead to degeneration of the bones or joints of the cervical spine, causing disc herniation or bone spurs to form. Sudden severe injury to the neck may also contribute to disc herniation, whiplash, blood vessel destruction, vertebral injury and, in extreme cases, permanent paralysis. Herniated discs or bone spurs may cause a narrowing of the spinal canal or the small openings through which spinal nerve roots exit. Pressure on a nerve root by a herniated disc or a bone spur may result in:
Generally, you can expect to fill out paperwork or a questionnaire explaining your health history, reason for your visit, surgical and family history, any pain you are feeling or any previous injuries you may have. At my appointment, there was a case manager that came in to explain who I would be meeting with and how the appointment would go. This made me much more comfortable about the whole process—I actually felt at ease and excited to keep working through the next steps! Here is an example of the type of forms you will be asked to fill out.