Chiropractic is a therapy that focuses on the relationship between the body's
structure and its function, with the belief that impaired body function can be
restored through structural corrections. At the core of the practice is spinal
adjustment or manipulation, in which pressure is applied by hand to fix
misaligned vertebrae. Spinal manipulation is one of the most researched
alternative treatments available in the US.
People who seem to benefit the most from chiropractic treatment are those who
seek treatment for musculoskeletal disorders; back, neck, and
associated arm and leg pain and numbness; or headaches. Research supports
chiropractic care for these conditions. Pain in the shoulders and other joints
of the arms and legs often respond to chiropractic therapies as well. While
chiropractic is less predictable and little researched for treating internal
organ problems, some chiropractors report seeing benefits for painful menstrual
periods, childhood ear infections, asthma, and digestive disorders.
Your first visit to the chiropractor will probably last about 30 to 60
minutes. The practitioner will make notes on the history of your ailment and do
orthopedic and neurological exams to diagnose and screen for conditions that
require referral to another specialist. He or she will feel your spine for
misaligned vertebrae, joints that are too tight or too loose, and muscular
imbalances. The chiropractor may request X-rays and/or lab tests; many have
X-ray machines right in their offices.
Once you are diagnosed, treatment begins, which often includes spinal
manipulation. Spinal manipulation is usually not
uncomfortable—don't let the popping sound you may hear
alarm you. Chiropractic therapies may also include hot and cold packs,
ultrasound, electronic muscle stimulation, and even acupuncture. Your
chiropractor may also teach you exercises and provide you with a supportive
collar, brace, corset, or shoe inserts. Depending on what state you live in,
your chiropractor may also be licensed to offer dietary counseling.
A full course of chiropractic treatment typically requires 10 to 15 visits,
but like any treatment, the extent of care needed may vary from one individual
to another. Acute pain may initially necessitate three or more visits a
week for several weeks. If there is no improvement in your symptoms within four
weeks of care, a chiropractor should refer you to another practitioner. At that
point you may also want to seek a second opinion. If you do see improvement,
additional care is appropriate, only with less frequent visits.
Your first visit will probably cost between $50 and $150. Follow-up visits
usually cost between $30 and $60 each. Most health insurance policies cover
chiropractic care to some extent. Automobile insurance policies usually cover
treatment as well, and Medicare provides partial coverage. Medicaid and workers'
compensation coverage varies depending on the state you live in.
You can get a list of chiropractors in your area at the International
Chiropractic Association's Web site at www.chiropractic.org or from the American
Chiropractic Association at www.amerchiro.org. Every state licenses and
regulates chiropractors who have undergone six years or more of training.
Consult your healthcare provider about your chiropractic treatment so that
you can monitor your progress together. It's also a good idea to talk to your
doctor before you seek another opinion or referral if you feel your chiropractic
treatment has not been effective.