Lots of people are coming to rely on their chiropractors just to be able to function in their day-to-day lives, but are chiropractors doctors?  Can you trust them as you would your regular family doctor?  The truth is that the two professions have many similarities, but some important differences too. Both treat illnesses, both are trained professionals, and both will advise you on how best to alleviate debilitating symptoms.  In contrast, doctors go through a different training process to chiropractors, and are medically trained, whereas chiropractors train specifically in the practice and theory of chiropractic treatments, and are not medically trained.

What is a chiropractor?

You might have been suggested to visit a chiropractor and found yourself thinking, but what is a chiropractor, and what do they do?  The word ‘chiropractor’ comes from Greek and English roots, and literally translates as ‘hand practical’ – which makes sense, because chiropractors specialize in using their hands to manipulate your body, usually your spine, and it is a very practical, hands-on treatment.  The theory is that the body’s musculoskeletal structure should be aligned correctly, otherwise it cannot function as well as it needs to, causing our bodies pain, discomfort and stiffness.  Your chiropractor is a trained professional who specializes in manipulating different parts of your body to realign it.  Studies show that chiropractic treatment can not only treat neck and back pain, but also headaches, arthritis and fibromyalgia, along with many other symptoms and ailments.

What training does a chiropractor have, compared to a medical doctor?

Doctors have to be trained in all of the different systems of the body to do their jobs, so their education can take more than ten years, through college, medical school and then their residency training.  Chiropractors go through college to get their science-related degree, and then go on to study for four years at chiropractic school, where they learn in depth about the structure and functions of the body through theoretical, practical and clinical training.  This means that it can take up to eight years to train to become a practicing, qualified chiropractor – which is a long time to spend studying a certain aspect of treatment.  It is very rare that a general practitioner will be as well informed in any medical area, as a chiropractor is in theirs.

What can I expect to be different about a visit to the chiropractor?

Visits to your chiropractor are very different from visits to your regular medical general practitioner.  GP visits can sometimes leave you feeling a little disenchanted by the whole process, with little actually done to solve your problems in the moment. Chiropractor visits are different in that they will address your problem there and then, and you will be able to feel the benefits quickly, some even say instantaneously.  Whereas a medical doctor may be able to prescribe pain medication, very few are trained in the realignment and tension relieving methods that chiropractors are.  This may result in you being prescribed a lifetime supply of debilitating pain relief medication for recurrent headaches, when all you needed was some hands that knew what they were doing!  Chiropractors will physically manipulate your body and bones using short, fast movements, stretches, and different types of pressure, and lots of people find that they instantly reap the benefits.  You will spend a lot of your visit on a bed similar to that you’d find in a massage therapist’s room, but your chiropractor will instruct you to sit or stand as appropriate, whilst they check for sensitivity and restrictions, and perform their manipulations.  During your first visit, you may be sent for scans or x-rays, so that your chiropractor can really understand your body, and what it needs.

What sort of people visit chiropractors?

Anyone who has problems with their neck and/or back, suffers from recurrent headaches, or any of the number of illnesses and ailments mentioned below, should book an appointment to see a chiropractor.  There is no age limit, nor any other set of rules to dictate who can benefit from chiropractic treatment, but you should always tell your chiropractor about any long-term injuries or illnesses that may be affected by your treatment, or hinder it.  Visiting the chiropractic clinic in person before your visit will help with any anxieties you may have, or you can arrange a phone call with your chiropractor, to ask any questions before you visit.

Will I have to go to the hospital to see a chiropractor?

Although some hospitals are beginning to have chiropractors working on site, usually you will go to your chiropractor’s own clinic to have your treatment.  Some medical doctors will refer you for treatment, however, so you may go to your doctor’s surgery first.  If you know that you want chiropractic attention, you can make first contact if you’d prefer, by simply finding a chiropractor in your local area, and making contact with them.  Many chiropractic clinics are much smaller and more approachable than big city hospitals, and you’ll find their waiting rooms a lot more comfortable, and less hectic.  In addition to this, the illnesses and symptoms treated by chiropractors are rarely contagious, so your visit will not send you home with more problems than you came with (unlike trips to see your GP).

How much will it cost to see a chiropractor?

Often the most important element to anyone’s decision on healthcare, the cost of chiropractic treatment can vary dramatically, depending on the type and length of treatment, your location, and the comfort/quality of the clinic and practitioners.  All chiropractors will provide you with a price list for their treatments, and many offer special introductory prices for new patients, so be sure to shop around.  Ask questions about the different treatment procedures available, and what their benefits are.  Be honest about your symptoms, and your chiropractor will find it much easier to treat them.  If cost is an issue for you, then start with your most troublesome problem.  Chiropractic care is covered by most health insurance packages, but many insurance companies will ask for a referral letter from your GP, so if you will be claiming on your insurance be sure to read the terms of your agreement.

What sorts of illnesses can chiropractors address?

The list of ailments and complaints which chiropractic treatment has been shown to solve, or at least alleviate, is too large to complete here, but in general, your chiropractor will work on issues with your muscles, tendons and ligaments, but also your bones, cartilage, and even your nervous system.  The most common reasons for chiropractic care are to help cure neck and back pain, along with pelvic, hip, shoulder and other joint pains.  However, research has shown there to be benefits in chiropractic treatments for many other conditions.  For example, acid reflux has been shown to respond to regular chiropractic attention, and many pregnant women claim to have used chiropractors to assist in aligning their unborn children correctly before birth.  Symptoms associated with arthritis, migraines, stress and anxiety, fibromyalgia, depression, digestion problems, blood pressure and even weakened immune systems have shown positive change when treated by a trained chiropractor.  However, there are some serious illnesses which should have different treatments.  If you are suffering from spinal cancer, severe osteoporosis or spinal instability, you will need to seek out alternative treatment options.

Are there any risks?

When you visit a medical doctor, many of the treatments offered to you come with possible side effects; the contraceptive pill taken by millions of women every day has been shown to cause weight gain and mood instability in some cases, and it has been suggested that there are links between it and more serious conditions such as breast cancer and depression.  Similarly, there are some small risks associated with chiropractic treatments.  Some people report temporary problems, such as pain or tenderness to the areas addressed in their last visit.  This is mostly normal, and your chiropractor will explain to assure you that there is nothing to worry about.  Rarely, complications such as herniated spinal discs or stroke may arise from neck manipulations, but these are very unusual when performed by a trained professional.  The best advice to follow is to always tell your chiropractor about any pain or discomfort you have, and about any long-term illnesses that might affect your treatment.  Then you can both make an educated decision together, on whether the risks outweigh the benefits of starting or continuing with your treatment.

How can I find the best chiropractor near me?

In the digital age, it is very easy to locate chiropractors all over the world using the Internet, but you may find yourself overwhelmed by all the different options and information available.  Ask yourself the question, “How can I find the best chiropractor near me?”  Your answer should always be to visit local clinics yourself and speak to the professionals working there.  There is nothing quite like first-hand experience, and you can judge for yourself whether the place and people are right for you.