How chiropractic works and can help you find pain relief?
Senior female patient while exercise treatment for neck with his physiotherapist. Pain in older woman neck vertebrae and rehab at medical center

How chiropractic works and can help you find pain relief?

Chiropractors may best be associated with spinal adjustments and the popping sound that many people’s bodies make as their musculoskeletal systems click back into proper alignment. That noise is actually the sound of pockets of gas released by the joints as they fall back into place. But the science of chiropractic dates back to the earliest days of civilization, making appearances in texts discovered from ancient Chinese and Greek civilizations. Today, chiropractic care ranks as the third largest health profession, surpassed only by medicine and dentistry. Here’s how chiropractic works and how it can help you.

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How chiropractic works — the beginning

With 77,000 chiropractors practicing across the country, this rapidly expanding field offers thousands of patients hope for pain relief. Increasing numbers of everyday people are turning to this time-honored tradition, the same one used by every team in the National Football League to help its players recuperate from whiplash, muscles strains, and neck and low back pain, according to the American Chiropractic Association (ACA).

But, chiropractic care itself has existed since ancient times. Too many ignore these historic, effective traditions as fancy treatments and pharmaceutical interventions captured the public imagination over the past century.

Writings dating from 2700 B.C. and 1500 B.C. were uncovered in Greece and China that reference the use of chiropractic care. Later, Hippocrates, the famous Greek physician whose eponymous Hippocratic Oath all doctors take, famously wrote:

“Get knowledge of the spine, for this is the requisite for many diseases.”

Starting in the late 1800s, chiropractic care emerged in the U.S., pioneered by an Iowa doctor named Daniel David Palmer. Palmer founded the Palmer School of Chiropractic. This school lives on to today, steeping young doctors in the rich traditions of the practice.

During chiropractic school, students undergo four to five years of training. They spend at least 4,200 hours spent in the laboratory, classroom, and medical clinic. Before practicing, chiropractic doctors must pass a national board test along with any tests required on the state level. Each state also has its own licensing requirements. The depth and breadth of training confers chiropractors the ability to act as primary care providers, according to ACA.

Today, the harsh effects of harmful drugs and the reality that wellness comes from a healthy skeleton and lifestyle—not costly and dangerous drugs—is again taking hold. With it, the momentum builds for more natural, holistic, and effective treatments.

How chiropractic works — the approach

Chiropractors focus on the health and proper alignment of the musculoskeletal system. Many muscle and joint pains result when some component in this intricate system of muscles, joints, bones, tendons, and ligaments falls out of place. Whether you’re a sports star or desk jockey, anybody’s musculoskeletal system may experience a disturbance resulting from daily activity.

Chiropractic medicine is based on the idea that a person’s overall health is linked to spinal alignment. The spine is not just a column of bones. It also houses the central nervous system. And, this affects the way a person processes pain.

All body parts are intricately connected. A misalignment in one area can influence misalignments, or even pain, in other, seemingly non-related parts of the body. Through spinal adjustments and manipulations, chiropractors help patients ensure their bodies are in optimal alignment, which encourages the free flow of muscles and bones. Without restriction in the musculoskeletal system, most patients experience a reduction in pain.

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Benefits of chiropractic care

The chiropractic approach is medicine-free, minimally invasive, and holistic. The most common techniques used are spinal adjustments or manipulations, but chiropractors treat the whole person. They examine lifestyle choices like diet, stress, sleep, and physical activity levels. These factors influence a person’s experience of pain and the degree of healing that’s possible.

A spinal manipulation may reduce a patient’s pain, but helping that patient possibly lose weight or reduce stress, for example, will support continued health.

Studies show that patients who actively participate in their treatment experience better outcomes and reduced pain. Many patients with low back pain find chiropractic care is an effective way to manage discomfort and find improved quality of life.

Another benefit is that the practice is minimally invasive. Injured workers are 28% less to undergo spinal surgery if they visit a chiropractor before an MD, ACA reports.

With prescription drug abuse skyrocketing and the dangers of opioids increasingly well known, more patients are gravitating toward chiropractors and their minimally invasive, effective methods of treatment.

Chiropractic care for back pain

Back pain is a pervasive and serious issue, affecting up to 80% of people at some time during their lives, according to the ACA. At any given time, about 31 million U.S. adults experience back pain.

While back pain has many lifestyle risk factors, such as poor posture and sedentary living, studies have shown that chronic back pain is related to changes in pain processing, according to research published in The Journal of Pain. The study found that patients receiving spinal manipulation therapy experienced less sensitivity to pain, and researchers said the procedure holds promise as a clinical treatment.

Another study published in The Spine Journal examined the benefits of spinal manipulation in patients with acute back pain and found the chiropractic technique outperformed other treatment methods like medication or exercise.

Back pain is one of the leading causes of disability and costs associated with treating it are estimated at $194 billion annually, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Studies show that chiropractors can alleviate some of that cost burden, with patients spending up to 20% less when they visit a chiropractor first instead of an MD, according to ACA.

Chiropractors, instead of prescribing drugs or invasive procedures, seek to understand pain conditions from musculoskeletal origins.

The origin of pain

Often times, pain results from tissue injuries that lead to hypermobile or restricted joints. Injuries sometimes develop from accidents, but may also result from daily repetitive stress, such as poor posture.

When tissues become injured, they become inflamed and painful, limiting muscle and joint mobility and often causing seemingly unrelated pain.

Chiropractors are able to uncover the musculoskeletal issues underlying many painful conditions and perform the necessary adjustments. In addition to approaching pain from this alignment perspective, chiropractors also frequently suggest rehabilitation techniques and lifestyle changes such as diet, exercise, and stress management to support a path to healing.

What happens during a chiropractic appointment?

Chiropractors use a whole-body approach with patients. The doctors are trained in specific diagnostic techniques that range from skeletal imaging to observing how patients’ bodies move to identify areas needing adjustment.

During a chiropractor appointment, patients may undergo an examination, receive hands-on treatment to correct misalignments, or receive information about possible lifestyle modifications to help reduce pain.

Is chiropractic care safe?

The short answer is yes, but let’s dive a little deeper.

First, one of the most commonly used methods of treating back and other types of musculoskeletal pain is painkillers. However, even over-the-counter medications like Advil and Tylenol are not without danger when taken over long periods of time.

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These medicines are intended for short-term issues, like healing a headache or acute injury. When taken continually, these medications may cause gastrointestinal problems such as ulcers or bleeding. Other risks include high blood pressure, kidney problems, or even heart issues.

With many medical treatments emphasizing invasive methods, chiropractic care offers a refreshingly non-invasive approach. And even among non-invasive therapies, chiropractic care ranks among the safest there is.

No treatment is 100% safe, and there are risks, however those risks are very small. Some patients experience feelings of soreness or achiness following treatment, but that discomfort usually disappears within 24 hours.

Some claims have linked a specific type of neck manipulation with a stroke known as vertebral artery dissection. However more complete evidence suggests that this stroke may take place spontaneously, and chiropractic care is not a trigger.

Other reports have connected the stroke to normal activities like turning the head while driving or even getting shampooed in a hair salon. These patients have specific symptoms involving neck pain and a headache for which they seek treatment. Only one in 5.85 million patients will experience this type of stroke connected to a high-velocity upper neck manipulation, making this an extremely rare occurrence.

Patient satisfaction for chiropractors is extremely high, with low-back pain patients giving the doctors high marks, above even physical therapists, surgeons, or primary care physicians.

Conservative care starts with chiropractic

Chiropractors believe in conservative care first. They believe that non-invasive treatments should come before more drastic measures. Further, medications should be used sparingly, and not as the first line of defense. As the American Chiropractic Association (ACA) says:

“For years, many patients would find relief through conservative forms of care such as chiropractic services only after unsuccessfully trying a range of other, more complex, and riskier treatments. Today, that approach has been reversed.”

Chiropractic care promotes non-invasive, drug-free treatments when possible to support patient health.

Over the past few years, increasing awareness about the dangers associated with opioid drugs, which are frequently used to treat back pain, has led to a resurging interest in methods such as chiropractic and associated treatments, including acupuncture.

Opioids are dangerous because they can lead to addiction, and even overdose or death. Meanwhile, these powerful drugs don’t address pain’s root cause. Instead, they leave patients reliant on these pills, which aren’t 100% effective, for the rest of their lives. As these ill effects become better known, alternative therapies such as chiropractic are growing more popular.

Chiropractic doctors focus on the body’s musculoskeletal and nervous systems. These specially trained physicians perform treatments including spinal manipulations, also known as adjustments. These work to increase mobility of a patient’s spinal vertebrae and ensure they’re in the proper alignment.

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