What is chiropractic?
Chances are, you know someone who has gone to a chiropractor. Chiropractic is the most widely used of all the "alternative" therapies. About one out of three people with back pain heads for a chiropractor's office in search of relief. Chiropractors are trained to look for problems with your spine that may be affecting your muscles and nerves and the way you move, then to try to correct these problems using a technique called spinal manipulative therapy (SMT). SMT involves using the hands to manipulate the spine through the skin. Many chiropractors use other methods as well, such as exercise, massage, nutrition, and even acupuncture, but they never prescribe drugs or do surgery. back to top
What is it used for?
Most people who go to a chiropractor are hoping to get rid of pain, especially back and neck pain. Some chiropractors use spinal manipulation to treat other conditions, such as asthma
and period cramps
, but so far there isn't much scientific evidence that it works for anything but back trouble. Chiropractic is best for treating short-term, or acute (lasting a few days to a few weeks) back pain, as opposed to chronic back pain, which lasts for three months or more. So if you wrench your back lifting a heavy backpack, say, chiropractic treatments may get rid of your pain faster than if you waited for it to go away on its own. back to top
What is a session like?
Your first visit to a chiropractor may start off like a visit to a regular health professional. The chiropractor asks questions about your health now and in the past. He or she does a physical exam that includes taking your blood pressure and pulse, listening to your breathing, and doing other tests that focus specifically on your bones and muscles. To find the source of your problem, he or she looks at your posture and feels your spine and other joints. You may also be sent for X-rays or lab tests to rule out any causes for your condition that would require a different type of treatment. Once all that's done, the chiropractor gets down to the work at hand.
During a chiropractic session, you lie on a special table that adjusts to your size and shape, allowing you to stay comfortable as the chiropractor works. Before starting spinal manipulation, the chiropractor may use some techniques to loosen up your muscles, such as hot or cold packs, ultrasound
, or vibrating pads.
Spinal manipulation often creates a loud popping sound like the one you make when you crack your knuckles. It shouldn't hurt, but it may catch you by surprise. When the offending joint snaps back into place, you may feel an immediate relief from pain. back to top
What is a typical course of treatment?
You may need to see a chiropractor three to five times a week for a couple of weeks to fully get rid of back pain. Your first session generally lasts at least an hour, while follow-up sessions usually last about 10 to 30 minutes. If you don't have major relief after two to four weeks (up to 12 sessions), you probably should try something else. back to top
Will my insurance cover it?
Most health insurance providers cover chiropractic treatment at least partially. You'll need to check with your own health insurance plan to see how much it covers. back to top
How can I find a chiropractor?
It's possible that your health professional can refer you to a good chiropractor. You can also get a list of licensed chiropractors in your area by contacting the American Chiropractic Association at 1-800-986-4636 or www.amerchiro.org
You or your parents should talk with a chiropractor before setting up any appointments to make sure you're in agreement about the therapy. Avoid any chiropractor who doesn't want to work together with your health professional or who wants to sell you expensive nutritional supplements or other products. Ask also about how he or she uses X-rays. They should be taken only when necessary and should not include full-spine X-rays, which can expose you to a lot of unnecessary radiation. back to top
Chiropractic treatment of the lower back rarely causes any bad effects, but manipulation of the neck is a different matter. Experts say that only one in a million cases of neck manipulation causes problems, but the complications are serious and can even lead to a stroke
. Take this into consideration before you agree to have any chiropractic treatment on your neck.
If you're thinking of having chiropractic treatment for a back problem, it's a good idea to talk with your health professional. Your health professional can help you figure out if the treatment is helping and suggest alternatives if it isn't. back to top