Maybe Matilda: Chiropractic 101 :: Frequently Asked Questions

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Chiropractic 101 :: Frequently Asked Questions

I’ve mentioned before that my husband, Jeff, is a chiropractor. Although neither of us grew up visiting chiropractors—my first chiropractic visit of my life was to the student clinic when Jeff started school, and his first visit was actually while shadowing a chiropractor in a pre-med college course—we’ve really developed a love for chiropractic and what it can do. But as we’ve both studied it, incorporated it into our lives/healthcare, and experienced great results, we’ve noticed that most people aren’t very familiar with it and don’t know what it is, what it can do, how it works, or how it can help them.

Jeff (and even me, too) often gets asked the same questions by neighbors and friends and family members, so we thought we’d address some of them here so we could have a simple “beginners’ guide” to chiropractic to refer people to if they wanted to learn a little more about it. So if you’ve ever wondered what chiropractic is all about, read on, friend, read on. (Jeff and I are writing this post together, by the way, so you can trust that this information is coming from an actual licensed professional and not some crazy crochet lady who doesn’t know a lumbar vertebra from a cupcake. If you have any questions after reading this post, feel free to email me and I’ll pass it on to Jeff to answer!) I know you come here for craft posts, but this info is good for everyone to hear—especially crafters like you who spend all day hunched in front of a sewing machine or crochet hooks or an embroidery hoop or a keyboard, blogging, or chasing your kids around, and so on and on and on . . .

What is chiropractic?

Every system in the body—muscles, organs, bones, skin, everything—is controlled by the nervous system, which transmits signals through the spinal column. If a segment of the spine is out of alignment, it can inhibit the nerve’s ability to transmit messages, which can cause pain or dysfunction. Chiropractic realigns bones to make sure nerves—and, thereby, all your body systems—function optimally.

What sort of problems does a chiropractor treat?

The majority of problems addressed in a chiropractic office are low back pain, neck pain, and headaches, but it can be extremely helpful in treating any issues arising from nervous system dysfunction caused by skeletal misalignment (which could range from whiplash injuries to the rapid body changes caused by pregnancy). Chiropractic returns the body to an optimal state in which it can function at its best and heal itself, so it should be viewed not just as pain relief but as a natural approach to overall wellness. Your body is smart—it knows how to heal itself and how to compensate for pain so you can keep going. Chiropractic puts and keeps your body in its optimal state so it can work the way it’s designed to. 
(Personal anecdote time! This is Rachel speaking, by the way. I don’t have any huge, life-altering chiropractic miracle stories, but chiropractic has really helped me in many smaller ways. Story 1: When I was in massage school, I started having a lot of sharp pain in my shoulder/pec area one day. I figured I had pulled a muscle, and worried that it would take weeks of ice and rest to recover, which would really put me behind in school since a big part of our grade was giving massages, something I couldn’t comfortably do with a painful shoulder. I made a visit to our chiropractor, expecting her to confirm that I had pulled a muscle, and was surprised to hear that the muscles were fine . . . but my clavicle was just barely misaligned, which was putting pressure on the nerves in that area and causing pain when I gave massages. She adjusted my clavicle (she said it had probably become misaligned due to a weird sleep position, or even carrying around a heavy purse or backpack) and instructed me to ice it throughout the day. Within a few hours, the pain was completely gone, and by the next day the swelling and leftover achiness were gone, too. I felt 100% better and was giving massages again a day or two later.)

Does it hurt?

Typically, a chiropractic adjustment is a high-velocity, low-force maneuver that realigns an out-of-place structure. Generally, it won’t be painful—there might be some discomfort or soreness after the adjustment, depending on the severity of the problem.
(Rachel again here, with story 2: One adjustment that tends to freak people out is this one, but let me tell you why it is my absolute favorite. I tend to get headaches—not the awful, debilitating headaches that some people struggle with, but just the annoying, run-of-the-mill, pop-an-Advil variety. They’re a nuisance, and I didn’t like taking pain medication every day. Early on in Jeff’s schooling, he encouraged me to visit the student clinic and mention my headaches. I didn’t realize this was something chiropractic could help with—I still thought chiropractic was more for big issues, like terrible back pain or car accident recovery—but I mentioned my almost-daily headaches to my student doc anyway. One neck adjustment later, I was headache-free. Since the problem arises from me having poor posture and bad habits like sitting in front of a computer or crocheting with my head bent over for hours, the headaches do return over time. But a quick visit to my favorite chiropractor [how lucky for me, we share an address!] and a neck adjustment, and the headaches are gone. Even if you don’t have a big problem that needs fixing and you’re just experiencing the annoyance of something like headaches, chiropractic can be a huge help!)

Are chiropractors “real” doctors?

Chiropractors, in general, will receive a 4-year bachelors degree before beginning a doctorate program in chiropractic. The education of a chiropractor is comparable to that of a medical doctor in the subjects of diagnosis, radiology, pathology, and other life sciences. The education differs in that a chiropractic student focuses on more natural treatment of disorders while a medical student’s education would focus more on pharmacology (medication/drugs). Chiropractic students must perform hundreds of adjustments in student clinics before graduating, and most students also do an internship with an experienced doctor before receiving their license.

My brother/neighbor/cousin/pet iguana saw a chiropractor and he did _______________ (insert unusual-sounding treatment here). That just sounds crazy, right?

Just like in any healthcare field, there are plenty of different opinions on how to best treat problems. In chiropractic, there are numerous techniques utilized to treat misalignment, and most doctors find one technique they love to use on the majority of their patients. The important thing is to make sure you see a doctor whose technique you agree with and gives you the best results. Some people respond better to certain treatments; if you aren’t getting the results you want, it doesn’t mean that chiropractic isn’t working for you. It more likely means that the technique/treatment you’re receiving is not the best one to meet your needs, and you should talk to your doctor about changing your treatment plan, or find a new doctor who practices a different technique.

Does insurance cover chiropractic care? How expensive is it?

Most insurance plans at least partially cover chiropractic. If you pay cash, you can tentatively plan on the price of a visit with a chiropractor to be comparable to, or less than, a visit to a medical doctor (although, obviously, prices will vary from office to office).

Is chiropractic “anti-medicine”? Will a chiropractor discourage me from visiting a medical doctor?

Any responsible chiropractor will not claim to be “anti-medicine,”  just like any good medical doctor will not claim to be “anti-chiropractic.”  Medicine has its place, just like chiropractic has its place. A true healthcare provider will look for the best treatment for their patients’ conditions, even if that means referring them to a different healthcare provider. A chiropractor’s first approach will always be a natural one. Chiropractic focuses on making sure the body is functioning optimally and letting your body’s innate intelligence take care of the rest. Sometimes your body experiences situations that are just too much for it to handle, even when everything is functioning properly. Even the most well-adjusted body can still be susceptible to illness and disease. When that happens it is important to seek outside treatment that can correct the issue, such as medical or surgical procedures. Chiropractic is not anti-medicine; it is just pro-body. We always want to use the least invasive approach to healthcare; if that fails, a responsible chiropractor will refer to the appropriate sources.

Can/should the elderly and children get chiropractic adjustments?

Chiropractic focuses on treating the nervous system, especially after a trauma has created some sort of dysfunction. Having a child of just one and a half, we know that trauma and children are like peas in a pod. From birth onward, children are living in a difficult world—from the tight squeeze on their birth day to spills on the playground, kids are constantly bombarded with physical stresses. All of this trauma can cause dysfunction in the nervous system, which if not addressed, can become chronic problems into adulthood.  Many question if chiropractic is safe for children and the elderly. There are many different techniques used in chiropractic. A “hands-on” adjustment is completely safe on people of any age if done by a trained professional, but many chiropractors choose techniques that apply even less force while still achieving the same results.  So as to whether the young and old possibly need chiropractic, the answer is yes. As to whether chiropractic is safe for the elderly and children, the answer is also a definite yes.

(Rachel here with one last story for you: From my first adjustment, I’ve always liked visiting the chiropractor . . . I always leave feeling better than when I walked in, and it helps to clear up any pain or issues I was having before they develop into bigger problems.  But I gained a whole new appreciation for chiropractic when I was pregnant. A pregnant mama’s body is growing and changing so quickly that her muscles and ligaments and bones are forced to undergo some awkward changes to make room for the growing baby, so most pregnant women complain of low back pain, hip pain, even sharp sciatic pain that shoots down the butt and legs. I was lucky to have had a normal, complication-free pregnancy . . . but I did experience the good old-fashioned discomfort of carrying around a gigantic, heavy belly. I tell you, I could have married the chiropractor I saw while I was pregnant [never mind that she was a lady . . . that’s legal in Iowa, and I loved her that much]. I’d hobble into her office with achy hips, a sore back, tight and painful shoulders, and I’d leave feeling like a million bucks. With a body that’s morphing and growing and changing at lightning speed,  I think chiropractic care is an absolute must for pregnant women [read more about chiropractic care during pregnancy from the American Pregnancy Association here]. It will save you so much discomfort and pain by helping your body adapt to and deal with the stress and pressure of the growth and extra weight, and make sure your body is in alignment for an easier delivery and recovery, too. And although I was lucky enough to not have to take advantage of this, there are even chiropractic techniques that are clinically shown to help turn a breech baby—read more about the Webster technique here.)

How do I find a good chiropractor?

Just like finding a good family care doctor, your best bet is probably asking around and getting a recommendation from someone you trust. Ask a potential chiropractor about the techniques they use to see if they make sense to you and match up with your ideas of healthcare. There are hundreds of different techniques and just as many opinions about their efficacy in addressing various problems, so try to find a chiropractor whose thoughts on healthcare and treatment match up with yours.


  1. I LOVE my Chiropractor so much. He's done wonders for me, my sister (who has arthritis) and my dad (who is a former football player with a neck like a linebacker). My chiro's wife works on a TON of pregnant women and turns breech babies all the time. She also does awesome work on people (aka me) with TMJ...

    That reminds me... I need to make an appointment.

  2. WOW. I gotta say--I had sworn up and down that I would never EVER go to a chiropractor unless absolutely necessary. My mom would take us with her when we were little, and I think the quick neck twisting freaked me out a little. Not "run from the room screaming" freaked out, but "a tiny grain of festering sand that eventually turns into a pearl of inexplainable fear" kind of freaked out. Now I'm all itching to go see what could be done for me! :)

  3. I wish I were married to a chiropractor! Sitting in front of a computer screen all day does nothing good for neck and shoulders, but a neck pop around here is quite expensive. Lucky you!

  4. I've never been to a chiropractor, but I don't think I'd mind seeing one... especially when I get knocked up.

  5. I kind of want to marry my lady chiropractor.

    She could tell from my xray that I didn't crawl as a child...which is leading to some of my fun problems today. She was right. I never crawled. Only rolled. Who knew. Make those babies crawl.

  6. This is on my list of "I've always wanted to but, am secretly scared of" things. I have the absolute worst posture, and am sure that seeing a chiropractor would make me feel a million times better, but I'm the lucky one who would get the "bad dr." I secretly just lay on the floor and let my husband pop my back. (Just don't tell Jeff that! It is probably a MAJOR chiropractic no-no.)

  7. I have been to a Chiropractor! If not for her, I wouldn't be able to walk right now. Ladies and Gentlemen, please listen when they tell you to lift things correctly.

    I was helping a friend of mine pick up a fence panel. I did not do this correctly and had a vertebrae pop out of place. (Yes, it really can happen!) It was pressing on my spinal column and I was in such sever pain that I was nauseous. I went to see the chiropractor and she gave me adjustments every other day for about a week. After each visit, I was to put an ice pack on my back to help keep everything in place and to keep the inflammation down. At that time, I was in my early 30s, but I had to walk like the little old lady with osteoporosis. I was bent over and had to take baby steps. Actually I shuffled my feet when I walked.

    This is my story. I don't go to see a chiropractor any more, as I have too much pain and still joints. Also I now do have osteoporosis. If you need one, don't delay! They can be awesome! Although one didn't do much good for my frozen shoulders. LOL Another story though.

  8. Wow... that is really helpful. My mom always said chiropractors are awful because they break your neck and you are paralyzed forever, but lately I've been wondering about them. I have bad posture and really bad lower back pain. I'm also a fairly natural-remedies sort of person (doctor only for major medical issues, no pain meds incase I'm dying, etc). You've convinced me to seek out a chiropractor. Utah is a bit far away but hopefully I can find a good one in Tennessee!

  9. Melissa--I'm sure you can find someone you love out there! And I know they say mothers are always right, but . . . in this case, your mom might have been a bit off :-) It's just about impossible to break somebody's neck with your bare hands (Hollywood has misled us once again!), and chiropractors are extremely well-trained and careful to not do anything that would cause injury, so you definitely don't need to worry about being paralyzed!

  10. I love going to the chiropractor :D it is so much fun to come out feeling all loose and good. Since I was a teenager my back doesn't take much to go out so I used to visit every year or so. I'm about due to visit again as my back is feeling all fiddly.

  11. Thank you for sharing this information! Not many patients know the work performed by these specialists. This article has given light to that.

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  12. I love my chiro. She fixed my i-hate-carseats baby. When I have this next baby I'm booking an appointment for him/her the second I go into labour, no kiddin'. I mean being born has got to be pretty rough, chiropractially speaking.
    My girls and I go every other month, sometimes more, and I love that my chiro is easy going enough that it doesn't faze her for my 4 yr old and my 1 yr old to be there while I get my adjustment. Generally following their own adjustments so they tend to be pretty chill! ;)

  13. The practice of chiropractors are still a blur to some patients. Not many of us understand what they do and how they treat pains in the lower back and spine. Either way, this alternative form of medication is worth a try.

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  14. Great facts, several thanks towards the author. It really is incomprehensible to me now, but in basic, the usefulness and significance is overwhelming. Thanks again and very good luck!

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