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Understanding Chiropractic: To the People


When someone mentions chiropractic and its role within healthcare, you are most likely going to hear a broad range of opinions. This is largely due to the wide diversity in styles of chiropractors. There are chiropractors that adjust based solely on imaging, there are chiropractors that do not utilize any imaging, there are chiropractors that focus on nutrition alone, and then there are a variety of options in-between. Vast options exist to best suit your personality, needs, health, wellness, and fitness goals. Chiropractic is a wonderful and amazing profession for its diversity, however, its unclarity in regards to scope of practice creates a major problem.

The Chiropractic Clarity Problem

When someone mentions an MD, the immediate question is what kind of MD? Is the person a family physician, cardiologist, endocrinologist, surgeon? These questions are quickly answered and understood; in the chiropractic realm, this is exactly the opposite. Unless a friend or family member referred you, the specialties and focus of that chiropractor or clinic is often unknown. Many chiropractors poorly highlight their uniqueness amongst the crowd, and may make claims to help everything under the sun. This problem is not specific to chiropractic, however, chiropractic consistently is criticized for these claims. Some of this problem is due to an obnoxiously old conflict between chiropractors and medical doctors. For some in the health profession, this conflict, is still alive but for many the divide is being squashed. Traditionally, medical doctors did not refer or support chiropractic as a profession. However, this is starting to change with progressing research, which validates the effectiveness of adjusting/mobilizing joints (Bronfort Report), and more comprehensive approaches. Some chiropractic facilities are starting to utilize these by integrating rehabilitative exercises and/or soft tissue approaches in addition to traditional adjustments in order to produce faster and better results.

Comical or not, a list of different practice styles is listed below:

Types of chiropractors

  • Subluxation Hunter
  • Imaging First
  • Nutritional Only
  • Functional
  • Soft Tissue Expert
  • Rehab Specialist
  • Product Pusher
  • Wham bam, see you later man/ma'am
  • Large Treatment Plan
  • Small Treatment Plan

I have left out many more styles than listed above, but hopefully you get the gist. There is a large variance in styles and each style can have their own pros and cons.

From a consumer perspective, you never know what you are going to get from one chiropractor to the next; and this becomes frustrating. If I am out buying a product at the store, I want to understand what that product is quickly and clearly or I will not buy. When shopping for a healthcare provider, consumers are asking for the same. Many times, people seek chiropractic care and/or services when they are experiencing pain lasting a prolonged period of time. Not always true, but prolonged neglect of an issue may require more visits. That does not mean fifteen visits, but maybe a few extra than if the problem was addressed sooner.

Shopping for a Chiropractor

There are many things you may want to consider when shopping for a chiropractor or other healthcare provider. As a chiropractor, I do have my own personal opinions as to what is most important; I make that very transparent. However, stating this, everyone (consumer) will have their own opinions, which may be different than my own. Below is a quick shopping list to consider when looking for the style of chiropractor or manual therapist who best suites your needs, personality, and lifestyle. I definitely suggest looking at their websites for services and conditions listed, and to follow up with a phone call.

Four concepts or questions

Length of First Visit

  • A strong initial assessment is the ONLY way to truly identify what tissue (joint, ligaments, muscles, fascia, nerve, tendon, etc.) is irritated, why the tissue is irritated, and what needs to be addressed to get you toward your goals. If the assessment is too quick, you're traveling up the creek without a paddle. Good luck.

Length of Subsequent Visits

  • The range of services provided will dictate length of the visits, ranging from 30 seconds to 30 plus minutes. A quality first visit will direct you toward the expected length of each following visit.

Services Provided

  • Piggy-backing off “length of visit,” some individuals prefer a quick adjustment; get-in-get-out regardless of outcome. Others want a more collaborative approach by working on soft tissue structures, and/or incorporating rehabilitative (physical therapy) services. Considering what your ultimate goal is will help you appreciate your investment.
    • Do you want just an adjustment?
    • Do you want adjustment + soft tissue therapy?
    • Do you want adjustment + soft tissue therapy + rehab?

Look for Certifications

  • I do not believe having more services and certifications makes a practitioner better. Often times it falls into the category of "a jack of all trades, master of none," which can handicap results in its own way. However, having additional certifications, other than D.C., can help reveal their philosophy and approach.
  • On the flipside, lacking additional certifications can quickly highlight that their scope of practice and focus is narrow. Think of it this way: "If you only have a hammer, then everything looks like a nail."

Hopefully these four tips will help guide you when shopping for a chiropractor. Remember, there are many different styles of chiropractic services available. If one style or practitioner is not getting you the results you are looking for, in the time frame discussed, and you are following their recommendations, do not be afraid to shop around. There are always other options out there available to you and with the internet they are becoming easier to find.

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