When to see a chiropractor

Chiropractic has a lot to offer many neuro-musculoskeletal conditions — those that affect your nerves, muscle and bone, and especially the joints. But let’s be clear, chiropractic does not “cure” anything and is not a panacea — even for pain conditions. So when is it helpful?

Low back pain (LBP) is a great place to start. Most people that use chiropractic do so for chronic LBP or neck pain, and most of them also suffer with osteoarthritis (inflammation of the joints).

But as of 2008, only about 5% to 7% of the U.S. population visited a chiropractor. It’s not a huge segment of the population but one important thing to note about this group — they were content with the care they received.

And the sooner they got care, the better off they were. One study indicated that seeking chiropractic care for LBP shows better outcomes if sought within the first 2 weeks.

But most people appear to wait… another study concludes that individuals seeking care for neck or back pain have worse health status than those who do not seek care for pain. Generally, however, patients who seek help from chiropractors alone report having fewer health problems and are less limited in their activities than those consulting medical doctors.

So what are some conditions you might see a chiropractor for? Aside from low back pain, other common conditions treated well by a chiropractor include:

  • Headaches and neck pain;
  • Numbness, tingling or pain radiating from the neck into the shoulders, arms or hands;
  • Pain radiating from the low back down the leg or into the foot;
  • Chronic conditions like osteoarthritis — affecting most of us after age 40.

What you can expect from chiropractors

All chiropractors are not equal. What I mean by this is within the profession, there are so many diverse methods of treatment — one source identified over 20. But most DC’s, also called Chiropractic Physicians in many states, utilize a variety of methods — or treatment modalities — that will likely accommodate the vast majority of the population. They have extensive training and knowledge in many subjects, but really only specialize in a few, depending on the doctor.

Here is a little of what patients experience and some general facts about chiropractic care:

  • More than 35% of chiropractic patients are receiving care for upper or low back pain.
  • About 20% of chiropractic patients are receiving treatment for neck pain.
  • People most often go to chiropractors to receive treatment for back pain, neck pain, headaches, car accidents, repetitive motion injuries or strains, and sports injuries.
  • You can visit a chiropractor if you have osteoarthritis (or other types of arthritis).
  • Treatments provided by chiropractors include spinal manipulation (chiropractic adjustment), massage, diet and nutritional counseling, and weight loss guidance.
  • Chiropractic adjustment is an effective treatment that’s performed around 1 million times every business day in the United States.
  •  Your chiropractor can be your primary health care provider.
  • Chiropractors will not prescribe medications as part of your treatment plan.

Chiropractors are not licensed to prescribe pharmaceuticals drugs or prescription medications. This is actually good news because most prescription medication does not reverse the underlying condition or the symptoms of chronic illness.

Instead, chiropractic offers spinal adjustments, extremity adjustments (of any joint outside of the spine), physiotherapy to minimize muscle spasms and pain, and when appropriate, education.

Chiropractic education includes how to prevent musculoskeletal back and neck pain; good posture and motions for work, play, home, sports activities; sleep posture and neck support; stretching and strengthening exercises to maintain a balanced and functional spine, joints, and supporting musculature, etc. Most musculoskeletal conditions are usually reversed with a series of spinal adjustments (usually 8 to 24 over a period of time).

Chiropractic is very effective in achieving these objectives. Of course, results vary according to the duration and severity of the underlying condition and its causes.

If you are open to using chiropractic vs. anti-inflammatory or analgesic (pain) medications and bed rest (the modern medical approach) for joint and muscle pain, then most Chiropractors are likely to be beneficial. Chiropractors are very good at diagnosing the cause of your pain via orthopedic and neurological testing. Some may recommend X-rays or MRI, especially if your condition was caused by trauma, infection, tumor, or osteoporosis.

After a treatment plan is developed and begun, it’s vital that you communicate what is working for you and what isn’t to your Chiropractor. If your condition doesn’t seem to be getting better within the first two weeks, feel free to get another opinion.

Some things you’ll want to consider before your first visit

  1. You decide when to go to the Chiropractor. Consider going when you have chronic pain of the low back, neck, mid-back, hips, sacro-iliac joints – which is to either side of center in the low, low back, or joints of the shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, ankles and feet. Some DC’s specialize in nutrition, neurology, sports injuries, some in adjustments of babies and children, some just for auto-related injuries.
  2. You decide how long you will go and how much you will ultimately pay (by shopping beforehand and getting recommendations from those who have been).
  3. Ask questions. What are your choices in treatment (pain relief vs. Corrective Care). Ask how long it may take to expect results. Follow recommendations. Don’t be afraid to go to another Chiropractor to have a different experience and then be better informed and experienced.

Sometimes it takes a while to find the Chiropractor that fits your criteria allowing you to be involved and make choices. Just as you would with any other caregiver, find one you feel communicates well with you and has a good bedside manner.

Like car repair shops, there are some really good adjustors out there, and some DC’s with conservative fees. Finding them both at the same Chiropractic Physician’s practice may be worth your time.

[i] Marc W. Zodet, M.S., Joel M. Stevans, D.C., The 2008 Prevalence of Chiropractic Use in the US Adult Population, JMPT, Oct 2012, Vol 35, Issue 8, Pp 580-588.
[ii] Karin E. Mantel, MChiroMed, Cynthia K. Peterson, RN, DC, MMedEd, B. Kim Humphreys, DC, PhD, Exploring the Definition of Acute Low Back Pain: A Prospective Observational Cohort Study Comparing Outcomes of Chiropractic Patients With 0-2, 2-4, and 4-12 Weeks of Symptoms, JMPT, Mar-Apr 2016 Volume 39, Issue 3, Pp 141-149
[iii] Cote P, Cassidy JD, Carroll L., The treatment of neck and low back pain: who seeks care? who goes where?, Med Care. 2001 Sep;39(9):956-67.
[iv] http://patch.com/iowa/urbandale/bp–ask-the-doctori-am-confused-about-the-many-many-d95613b4720
[v] General Information about Chiropractic Care. American Chiropractic Association Web site. http://www.acatoday.org/pdf/Gen_Chiro_Info.pdf.
[vi] Back Pain Facts & Statistics. American Chiropractic Association Web site.http://www.acatoday.org/pdf/back_pain.pdf.
[vii] Chiropractic Quick Facts. International Chiropractors Association Web site.http://www.chiropractic.org/?p=chiroinfo/main.
[viii] Chiropractors. Bureau of Labor Statistics Web site.http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos071.htm. Updated December 17, 2009.
Dr. Brad Cutler

By Dr. Brad Cutler

With over 30 years of clinical nutrition experience, Dr Brad Cutler has been a well-respected authority in digestive health, nutrition and natural anti-aging protocols. In 2014 Brad certified in Functional Medicine. His life is all about health, fitness, and what works nutritionally in the body. He coaches individuals in essential lifestyle principles as a part of his ongoing functional medicine practice. Brad’s mission is to inspire others to purposefully create thoughts and emotions that support wise food choices and lifestyle changes that improve health. Individual focus may include balance of digestion, detoxification, immunity, hormones, cardio-metabolic health, cognitive function and mood.

Brad may be reached for Health Coaching at functionalmedicineutah@gmail.com.