It is estimated that about 27 million Americans visit a doctors of chiropractic each year, and millions more receive chiropractic care throughout the rest of the world. Chiropractic is the third largest primary health care field (after medicine and dentistry).
Chiropractic is a branch of the healing arts which is based upon the understanding that good health depends, in part, upon a normally functioning nervous system (especially the spine, and the nerves extending from the spine to all parts of the body).
"Chiropractic" comes from the Greek word Chiropraktikos, meaning "effective treatment by hand." Chiropractic stresses the idea that the cause of many disease processes begins with the body's inability to adapt to its environment.
It looks to address these diseases not by the use of drugs and chemicals, but by locating and adjusting a musculoskeletal area of the body which is functioning improperly.
The conditions which doctors of chiropractic address are as varied and as vast as the nervous system itself.
We use a standard procedure of examination to diagnose a patient's condition and arrive at a course of treatment. Chiropractors use the same time-honored methods of consultation, case history, physical examination, laboratory analysis and x-ray examination as any other doctor. In addition, they provide a careful chiropractic structural examination, paying particular attention to the spine.
The examination of the spine to evaluate structure and function is what makes chiropractic different from other health care procedures. Your spinal column is a series of movable bones which begin at the base of your skull and end in the center of your hips. Thirty-one pairs of spinal nerves extend down the spine from the brain and exit through a series of openings. The nerves leave the spine and form a complicated network which influences every living tissue in your body.
Accidents, falls, stress, tension, overexertion, and countless other factors can result in a displacements or derangements of the spinal column, causing irritation to spinal nerve roots. These irritations are often what cause malfunctions in the human body. Chiropractic teaches that reducing or eliminating this irritation to spinal nerves can cause your body to operate more efficiently and more comfortably.
We also places an emphasis on nutritional and exercise programs, wellness and lifestyle modifications for promoting physical and mental health. While chiropractors make no use of drugs or surgery, Doctors of chiropractic do refer patients for medical care when those interventions are indicated. In fact, chiropractors, medical doctors, physical therapists and other health care professionals now work as partners in occupational health, sports medicine, and a wide variety of other rehabilitation
Be ready to provide your medical history, which will be essential for preparing a course of treatment for you. Medical records, such as diagnostic test results, or imaging results, such as X-rays and MRIs, also will provide important information about your condition.
Certain things in your health history are particularly vital to a chiropractor. This information could provide important clues that will allow your chiropractor to properly diagnose your problem. Such clues include whether you have or have had:
- Bone disorders, such as osteoporosis
- Circulatory problems (poor circulation could be a sign that you have a subluxation, for example)
- Dizziness or blurred vision
- Heart conditions such as hypertension or high blood pressure
- Infections, especially those affecting your spine
- Injuries, such as bone fractures, muscle sprains, or disc injuries
- Joint disorders such as arthritis
- Sleep apnea
Be prepared to answer such questions as:
- Did the onset of your pain immediately follow an injury?
- Is there anything you do that improves or worsens the pain?
- When and how did your pain start?
- Where is the pain centered?
The physical exam
Here's what to expect:
The first order of business is checking your vital signs, reflexes, and blood pressure.
Sometimes measurements will be taken to determine arm and leg length. Next, you will be asked to do a series of simple and easy activities or exercises. These exercises will provide information about your motor skills, balance, and gait, among others. These tests also help determine your range of motion, muscle tone and strength, and integrity of your nervous system. Any abnormalities could provide clues about a condition. You may be asked to:
- Bend forward, sideways, or backwards - Misaligned spinal vertebrae can sometimes be detected during this exercise.
- Flex and extend your leg - This is a test for signs of sprain and helps determine the integrity of your joints (also called the "Yeoman's Test").
- Grip something such as a rubber ball - Your grip strength is vital for showing signs of muscular or nerve damage.
- Lie down and raise one leg - This is often referred to as the "Thomas Test," in which the chiropractor gently pushes on your raised leg to check for hip joint mobility.
- Stand and raise one leg - This test can sometimes show whether you have sciatica, a nerve disorder in your lower back. Another test may involve pushing on your raised leg to determine whether you have pain, inflammation, or imbalance in the joints between your spinal vertebrae. (This is also called the "Psoas Muscle Test.")
- Stand or sit - Posture can sometimes show whether you have misalignments in your spine.
- Walk a straight line - This test measures your gait, and helps to determine if you have a normal walking pattern.
- Walk in Place - Abnormalities in the way your pelvis and spine coordinate can be seen during this test.
Next, a short physical exam by the chiropractor will involve palpation, or use of the hands, to explore the alignment of your spine and other structures, as well as provide information on any stimuli that may cause pain. Depending on your condition, a series of diagnostic tests may follow. These tests may include MRIs, CT scans, X-rays, blood work, and other laboratory tests.
The chiropractor may also consult with you about making important lifestyle changes, such as exercise, nutrition, and smoking cessation to improve your chances of healing faster or preventing further injury.