Chiropractic care is a way to diagnose and treat health problems that affect the nerves, muscles, bones, and joints of the body. A health care provider who provides chiropractic care is called a chiropractor.
Hands-on adjustment of the spine, called spinal manipulation, is the basis of chiropractic care. Most chiropractors also use other types of treatments as well.
The first visit usually lasts 30 to 60 minutes. Your chiropractor will want to know about your goals for treatment and your health history. You will be asked about your:
Tell your chiropractor about any physical problems you may have that make it hard for you to do certain things. Also tell your chiropractor if you have any numbness, tingling, weakness, or any other nerve problems.
After asking you about your health, your chiropractor will do a physical exam. This will include testing your spinal mobility (how well your spine moves). Your chiropractor may also do some tests, such as checking your blood pressure and taking x-rays. These tests look for problems that might be adding to your back pain.
Treatment usually begins at the first or second visit.
Some people are a little achy, stiff, and tired for a few days after their manipulations. This is because their bodies are adjusting to their new alignment. You should not feel any pain from the manipulation.
More than one session is usually needed to correct a problem. Usually treatments last several weeks. Your chiropractor may suggest two or three short sessions a week at first. These would last only about 10 to 20 minutes each. Once you start improving, your treatments may be just once a week. You and your chiropractor will talk about how effective the treatment is based on the goals you discussed in your first session.
Chiropractic treatment is most effective for:
People should not have chiropractic treatment in the parts of their bodies that are affected by:
Very rarely, manipulation of the neck may damage blood vessels or cause strokes. It's also very rare that manipulation may worsen a patient's condition. But the screening process your chiropractor does at your first visit is meant to see if you might be at high risk for these problems. If you are, your chiropractor will not do neck manipulation.
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Rubinstein SM, van Middelkoop M, Assendelft WJ, de Boer MR, van Tulder MW. Spinal manipulative therapy for chronic low-back pain. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011 Feb 16;(2):CD008112.
Chou R, Loeser JD, Owens DK, Rosenquist RW, et al; American Pain Society Low Back Pain Guideline Panel. Interventional therapies, surgery, and interdisciplinary rehabilitation for low back pain: an evidence-based clinical practice guideline from the American Pain Society. Spine. 2009;34(10):1066-77.
Walker BF, French SD, Grant W, Green S. Combined chiropractic interventions for low-back pain. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010;(4). Review.
Updated by: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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