Chiropractor: Your Hands-On Therapy & Spinal Adjustment Expert

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What is a chiropractor?

A chiropractor specializes in correcting spinal alignment problems without drugs or surgery. Chiropractors diagnose and treat conditions, such as back and neck pain, headaches, and fibromyalgia. They provide nonsurgical and alternative back pain relief using manual spinal adjustments and other hands-on therapies. Chiropractors base their approach to treatment on the concept that the relationship between the body’s structure and nervous system affects overall health.

A chiropractor typically: 

  • Evaluates the patient's medical history and performs a physical examination with special attention to the spine

  • Teaches patients about their condition, the treatment plan, and how to perform exercises at home

  • Orders and interprets laboratory and imaging tests, such as X-ray and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)

  • Diagnoses certain conditions and refers patients to other doctors if needed

  • Performs treatments, such as spinal adjustment, electrical therapy, and mobilization therapy

  • Provides nutritional, dietary, occupational, and lifestyle modification counseling

  • Works closely with physicians and other members of your healthcare team as needed to ensure optimal care

A chiropractor may also be known by the following terms: back doctor, chiropractic doctor, doctor of chiropractic, and DC.

Who should see a chiropractor?

Doctors often refer people to chiropractors to provide therapies that complement the medical treatment plan for many conditions, such as back and joint problems. People who seek care from a chiropractor typically prefer a hands-on therapeutic approach to healthcare that promotes healing without medications or surgery. Chiropractors also promote self-care by providing exercises and diet and lifestyle counseling that a patient can perform at home to improve their health.

When should you see a chiropractor?

Consider seeing a chiropractor if you have any of these symptoms or conditions:

  • Back or neck pain

  • Chronic pain

  • Headaches

  • Joint or muscle pain or strains

  •  Joint stiffness

  • Pain shooting down your arms or legs

  • Severe fatigue and achiness

  • Tingling or burning in your arms or legs

  • Weakness in your arms or legs

You can also see a chiropractor for a regular medical exam. Similar to other doctor visits, chiropractors perform a physical exam; evaluate your medical history; teach you about health and wellness and disease prevention; answer any questions you may have about your health; and order necessary tests.

For nonsurgical and alternative pain relief and health and wellness counseling, find an experienced chiropractor near you.

What does a chiropractor treat?

A chiropractor treats a variety of conditions and diseases that affect the spine, joints, muscles and nerves including:  

What does a chiropractor test?

A chiropractor can order or perform a variety of diagnostic tests. These tests include:

  • Evaluation of your spine, posture, flexibility, sensation, reflexes, walking and gait

  • Imaging tests including X-ray, CT (computed tomography), and MRI

  • Piriformis muscle test to evaluate flexibility of the hip joint and flexibility of the piriformis muscle in your buttocks

  • Psoas muscle test to assess strength, pain or imbalance of the joints in your spine. The psoas muscle connects your lower spine to your leg.

  • Straight leg raise to check for sciatica

  • Yeoman's test to help determine if your lower spine and pelvis joints are sprained or strained

What procedures and treatments does a chiropractor do?

Chiropractors take an alternative approach to pain relief and overall wellness based on the relationship between the body’s structure and nervous system. They perform hands-on, nonsurgical pain relief procedures and treatments without medication for diseases and conditions of the spine, joints, muscles and nerves.

Common procedures and treatments include: 

  • Exercise therapy including strengthening exercises, stretching, and corrective and rehabilitative exercises

  • Lifestyle and diet counseling including stress reduction; nutritional, dietary, and weight loss counseling; and dietary supplement recommendations

  • Manipulative therapy including spine manipulation and adjustments of your arms and legs

  • Physical therapy including joint mobilization therapy, heat and ice, massage therapy, electrical stimulation of your muscles, and deep heat therapy using ultrasound and laser technologies

Chiropractors may also have training and experience in performing acupuncture, dry needling, and other alternative treatments.

Chiropractor training and certification

High-quality chiropractors have the necessary education, training, experience, and licensure to establish competence in chiropractic care. Licensing requirements for chiropractors vary between states. At a minimum, a state-licensed chiropractor has:

  • Completed two to four years of undergraduate study

  • Graduated with a Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) degree from a four-year chiropractic college program accredited by the Council on Chiropractic Education

  • Passed national and state examinations  

To maintain licensure as a chiropractor, most states require a chiropractor to complete a specific number of continuing education hours each year.

Chiropractors can pursue postdoctoral training, education and testing in one of the following subspecialties through an accredited chiropractic college program:

  • Family practice focuses on chiropractic care for the whole family.

  • Industrial consulting focuses on reducing work-time lost due to work injuries. Industrial chiropractors consult with employers to prevent work-related injuries.

  • Neurology focuses on movement disorders, dystonia, stroke, nerve entrapment syndromes, and other neurological conditions.

  • Nutrition focuses on nutritional, dietary, and weight counseling including dietary supplements.

  • Orthopedics focuses on diseases, disorders and conditions of the bones, joints, ligaments, tendons and nerves.

  • Pediatrics focuses on chiropractic care for children.

  • Radiology focuses on radiologic studies (X-rays and CT) and other imaging procedures with chiropractic care.

  • Rehabilitation focuses on treating injuries with chiropractic techniques as well as promoting principles of physical fitness.

  • Sports injury medicine focuses on physical fitness and treatment and prevention of sports injuries.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2017 Sep 15
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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