The Basics: If chiropractic care doesn’t exactly strike you as a true alternative therapy, that’s because the practice is the largest and most recognized form of alternative medicine.
The 2007 National Health Interview Survey showed that about eight percent of American adults had tried chiropractic care in the previous year. Chiropractic medicine focuses on the relationship between our musculoskeletal and nervous systems. When a misaligned spine interferes with normal nerve function that can trigger other health problems, including headaches and muscle spasms as well as balance, vision and coordination problems.
Chiropractors traditionally treat these issues with hands-on adjustment and manipulation. In addition, many chiropractors also offer nutrition advice, physical therapy, manual stretching, ultrasound, exercise and electrical stimulation, according to Dr. Drew DeMann, a Manhattan chiropractor who studies integrative medicine at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine and has a background in family practice.
After the initial four years of schooling required for a chiropractic generalist degree, many chiropractors complete post-graduate work in a specific area such as orthopedics or sports injury, giving each chiropractor slightly different specialties. “One of the great strengths of chiropractic is that it’s such an out-of the-box profession,” says DeMann. “Some [chiropractors] are more into nutrition, some are into musculoskeletal or biomechanical care. You can seek out different types of chiropractic care, and they have something to offer everybody, from traditional orthopedic treatments to the esoteric.”
A chiropractic consultation may feel similar to a visit to a medical doctor, with a physical exam and diagnostic tests such as X-rays, MRIs or blood work. Chiropractors spend a significant amount of time discussing health history, past injuries, surgeries and pain with their patients. However, unlike a medical doctor, a chiropractor may also discuss lifestyle modifications including diet, exercise, nutrition, acupuncture and nutraceuticals rather than prescription medications, explains DeMann.
“Western medicine is prescription-based, whereas chiropractic is hands-on and may require repeat visits over several weeks to affect change,” he says. Chiropractors cannot prescribe medication and will refer a patient to a medical doctor if chiropractic care cannot fully treat a health concern.
Scientific Support: Several scientific studies show chiropractic treatment to be safe and effective, especially for musculoskeletal issues. A 2003 British Medical Journal study demonstrated that the manual adjustment used in chiropractic treatment for neck pain is more effective and less costly than treatment by a general practitioner. And a 1995 Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics study found that spinal manipulative therapy, also used by chiropractors, is an effective treatment for migraine headaches, resulting in long-lasting benefits and a reduced need for over-the-counter medication.
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