The Art of Choosing a Chiropractor

orthopedist examining patient's back

What is chiropractic care? The word chiropractic comes from Greek. The first part means work, and the second part is a correction, so it translates to a doctor who puts things right. 

As science explains more about what causes disease, doctors of chiropractic are using this information to help their patients recover faster and easier than ever before. Chiropractors are not treating illness but rather restoring health through better function of the nervous system/body systems. A well-adjusted spine will optimize the body’s natural healing powers.

The Spinal Cord

Your spinal cord, which includes the bundle of nerves, must be able to transmit messages throughout your nervous system with no interference, just as if you were standing in an open field communicating with someone several miles away without any trees or buildings blocking your view.

However, the spinal cord may be compressed or even blocked by back, hip, knee, and shoulder problems. When these areas of pain are corrected through chiropractic adjustments, nerves in the spine can then effectively transmit messages throughout your body to help maintain health.

A doctor of chiropractic will assess your condition from an overall view with a combination of X-rays, if necessary, and hands-on physical assessment (palpation), along with taking a detailed history from you to determine what is causing your problem or symptoms and thus how they can help you recover faster. 

Chiropractors are trained in many areas that other medical practitioners have not had experience with so find out about their training before you decide on which one to consult for care.

Chiropractors can treat a wide range of conditions that are both acute (sudden onset) and chronic (long term, takes time to develop). Some people come in for wellness care, which involves a yearly check-up. 

The adjustments will vary depending on your condition, but most focus on the spine, especially the back and neck. A chiropractor may also be able to assist you if you have problems with asthma or allergies and even digestive problems such as constipation, bloating, or gas.

For an uncomplicated pregnancy, treatments will help correct any imbalances in the pelvis and provide specific exercises to prepare for labor and birth so that proper posture is maintained throughout pregnancy. Chiropractic advice during pregnancy helps provide support and comfort to the expectant mother.

Chiropractors also work with athletes to help prevent injuries, enhance performance, or rehabilitate after an injury occurs. They may also help improve a variety of physical conditions such as scoliosis (curvature of the spine), flat feet, Achilles tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, osteoporosis, and TMJ (temporomandibular joint) dysfunction.

Why Should You Choose a Chiropractor?

orthopedist examining patient's back

Chiropractors are trained in the science of the nervous system, how it works, and how to treat problems such as back pain, which is one of their specialties. They also understand musculoskeletal issues, i.e. muscles, joints, and bones, and work with you to help improve your function by restoring normal nerve transmission throughout your body through proper alignment of your spine for a healthier quality of life.

After an injury happens (workplace, sports, or recreation), chiropractic care can help provide a quicker recovery time than that from other types of healthcare providers. Chiropractic doctors use spinal adjustments along with soft-tissue therapies such as massage therapy. 

Chiropractors have experience working with injuries such as whiplash during motor vehicle accidents and help many patients who suffer from chronic back, neck, or joint pain.

Chiropractors treat infants, adults, and children for a wide variety of painful conditions. But as with any healthcare provider, you should investigate the effectiveness of your chosen practitioner before finalizing your choice.

Be sure to do your homework on the professional reputation of potential candidates. Check with other health professionals you may be working with (chiropodists, naturopaths) or contact current clients to find out how the chiropractor has helped them with their condition.

When visiting a new doctor, always bring along all related records so that they can get an accurate idea about what has happened in the past and then formulate a treatment plan based on your diagnosis. Always communicate your concerns or questions about your treatment.

How to Choose the Right Chiropractor

woman talking with her doctor

Chiropractors have the training and knowledge to help patients with many types of painful conditions, especially if a chiropractor focuses on neuromuscular disorders (spinal cord, muscles, and bones). A good candidate will be able to work with you to correct any problems that have occurred in your spinal column or musculoskeletal system.

When choosing the best chiropractor, you can narrow down your choices by using the following questions:

1. How Long Has He/She Been Practicing?

Look for a chiropractor who has at least three years of training. This usually means they’ve worked in an internship or have two years of university and another year of practical experience.

You can also look into their specialty. Research your condition to find out what type of treatment you need, i.e., back pain, headaches, whiplash injuries, etc. Some chiropractors treat all conditions while others are more specialized in a particular area such as pediatrics or sports injury care. Make sure that you choose someone with the expertise needed for your situation.

2. How Long Has the Chiropractor Been with This Clinic?

New chiropractic graduates require more supervision from senior staff than experienced practitioners before they can treat patients independently. Therefore, make sure that he/she is employed by a reputable organization and isn’t just renting space in their office. Working closely with an experienced practitioner will help them if something goes wrong or they need advice/guidance. Other possible questions to ask include: 

  • When did he/she start his career as a chiropractor?
  • How many years has he/she been practicing chiropractic medicine?
  • Has the doctor mentored with a professional in this field of medicine to develop his/her skills and knowledge?
  • Are there other health professionals (e.g., physiotherapist) working within this office?

The last question shows you how well they are organized and demonstrates that the doctor is open to working in a team environment.

3. What Other Services Do You Offer?

Many of the chiropractic techniques fall into the category of soft-tissue therapy. It utilizes motions or controlled force to move joints and other tissues in a way that fluid can be released, helping to reduce pain and inflammation.

Anti-inflammatory medications taken by mouth for acute conditions are one type of soft-tissue therapy. If you have chronic back pain, the chiropractor may suggest regular treatments to help with muscle tension or bulging discs. Soft-tissue therapies do not usually require much time commitment and can often be done in combination with spinal manipulation and exercise.

Spinal Manipulation

Of the different soft-tissue therapies, the most popular is spinal manipulation. The doctor will apply a slight twisting force or short thrusts to your spine to increase space between vertebrae, as well as realign any misaligned vertebrae using their experience, knowledge, and skillset. Chiropractors use spinal manipulation to treat conditions such as chronic back pain, neck pain, and headaches.

Over the years, there has been debate about how risky spinal manipulation might be because of a risk of stroke from a ruptured blood vessel in your brain. However, new studies show that while this is possible, it is extremely rare. Most cases can be attributed to another underlying medical condition such as an arteriovenous malformation (AVM).

A study published in the April 2011 issue of Spine showed that spinal manipulation did not cause strokes or any serious complications among 1,726 patients with vertebral artery dissections (or tears) who had undergone cervical spine manipulations. This research specifically looked at people who were having chiropractic treatments for neck or low back pain.

Chiropractic physicians are well aware of how important it is to choose the right type and amount of treatment for your condition. If there is too much stress placed on a particular spinal region or joint, bones might fracture and muscles could tear. Research shows that most people can have chiropractic treatments without any serious complications as long as they do not have an underlying problem with their heart or chronic disease like diabetes.

The American College of Physicians (ACP) recommends the use of spinal manipulation by healthcare providers as a first-line option for treating acute low back pain with recent onset. A systematic review published in the January 2008 issue of Spine showed that patients who had manipulative treatment instead of other standard treatments, such as medication, massage therapy, and physical therapy, had better improvements in both short-term pain relief and long-term improvement after 3 months.

Some providers will provide many different types of services from nutritional advice to diet prescription and massage therapy. You should ask what kinds of wellness programs the chiropractor has in place so that you can find out whether or not he/she is going to help you stay healthy throughout your life. If they’re only interested in getting your back fixed, then it’s best to move on! 

On the other hand, if they offer holistic care, this is a great thing because it means they’ll be able to assess all aspects of your health and treat problems as soon as possible before they get worse. Check beforehand how much the services cost, especially if you have insurance so that there aren’t any nasty surprises when it comes to paying for treatment. If they don’t accept insurance then, decide whether or not the overall value is worth paying out of pocket to receive care that you can return to again and again without worrying about costs.

4. How Many Sessions Will I Need?

If you’re experiencing pain, he/she may feel that the best way to help you is through regular treatment rather than one-off treatments. If this is the case, make sure that there is a clear agreement on what they offer and how often they’ll see you. 

If you are having back pain, your chiropractor may advise you to carry out gentle stretching exercises as well as a strengthening routine. He/she may ask that you do these at home but will usually show and explain them to you during the first few treatment sessions.

For some people, they only need a few treatments before their condition improves enough for them to manage without further help. Others may need several months of regular adjustments. Your chiropractor should be able to suggest the best course of action based on your symptoms and needs.

When discussing your symptoms with them, also inquire about any other treatments they offer. If your pain isn’t relieved completely, then you can ask for suggestions about alternative methods. Perhaps there’s an option to have regular sessions together as well as occasional visits with another healthcare specialist.

5. Will I Need Other Treatments?

It is possible that while under chiropractic care, you might find that other types of therapy such as physical therapy, massage, or acupuncture do help with relieving your pain. If this is the case, discuss with your doctor how best to proceed. They may organize additional therapies for you if appropriate or explain why these aren’t relevant in your situation.

Even if your chiropractor feels that you’ll benefit from other therapies, they will most likely still see you regularly to ensure that your condition doesn’t get any worse. As a rule of thumb (no pun intended!), don’t stop seeing your chiropractor until their recommendations work for you, especially if you weren’t able to find any more relief elsewhere.

Although it’s rare for people to react badly to manipulation therapy, in the unlikely event that something goes wrong during treatment, ask about what happens if this should occur. It’s good practice for each session to have an “informed consent” form signed before treatments begin. This outlines the steps that the doctor will take and also explains why they are needed so as not to alarm patients unnecessarily.

6. How Do I Pay for My Treatment?

If you have private health insurance, the chiropractor may arrange this for you or discuss with your insurance company any fees not covered by your policy. If you don’t have private medical coverage, or it won’t pay for the treatment you need, ask if there are any other ways of paying for your treatments.

Many chiropractic practices offer payment plans, and this should be discussed during the initial consultation. Some may want to create a “care plan” for you that they can send to your insurance company with details about the cost as well as an outline of what treatment and care they feel is best for you. 

Your chiropractor may also be able to refer you to a specialist who will write a letter of support to get further financial assistance through your insurer. Most health insurances will still require some form of proof that your condition was caused by trauma rather than a known underlying issue. Your chiropractor can provide this if needed.

When you first start treatment, it may be a good idea to have progressive payments. This will allow you to pay for some of the sessions upfront but then spread the cost over several weeks or even months. Having regular treatments means that you are more likely to keep going and benefit from your care plan.

7. What Insurance Do You Have?

massage therapist giving neck and back treatment

Always ask the chiropractor for their professional liability insurance information so you can check it out yourself. If they seem hesitant about providing details or their insurance was created a long time ago, then maybe they aren’t very confident about their work or may not be being completely honest from the start before you’ve even met them! 

The best way to find out is to call the provider directly as with any other type of policy. It’s also worth checking whether your health care plan covers chiropractic services. Although some companies do offer this, many don’t.

8. How Do Other People Rate Them?

Some people approach their GP for recommendations, but others use the Internet to search directories and forums or ask family, friends, or work colleagues. Sometimes you might just know of someone who you think could be a good practitioner. After all, we’re all unique. What works for one person may not necessarily benefit another.

Before making your appointment, always arrange to have a consultation before committing to treatment and don’t feel pressured into starting if you are unsure about anything that is said or offered. 

At this first meeting, discuss the services on offer as well as any issues surrounding payment and fees. If they lack answers, then it’s best to move onto someone else rather than feeling uncomfortable during subsequent sessions. You also want your chiropractor to be approachable and have a pleasant demeanor. It’s worth bearing in mind that they need to understand you as a patient. If they seem to lack empathy for you or are unable to explain your condition, then maybe it isn’t the right time for them to work with you.

9. What Facilities Do They Have?

Check if the chiropractor has X-ray equipment and an in-house laboratory so that proper diagnosis can be made. Good equipment will probably cost a little more money but is necessary for the best care. 

10. How Updated Are They with the Current Chiropractic Treatments and Techniques?

Check if the chiropractor has regular meetings with a committee or advisory board so that they are able to exchange ideas and information. If they attend seminars, workshops, and conferences frequently, then this shows that they desire to keep abreast of new techniques as well as be able to receive feedback on how those treatments are perceived by patients.

Those who don’t attend regular seminars are generally considered to be less knowledgeable and up-to-date with their skills. Unfortunately, the number of chiropractors who are members of professional associations is relatively small. 

A good indicator may be whether they display a large certificate on the wall saying Chiropractor of the Year or similar. This shows that they’ve been honored by people in their field, which indicates that you might be getting excellent treatment from someone who deserves it.

What qualifications do they hold? What courses have they been on in the past? Are these qualifications current or outdated? 

Many people take some time off in between their schooling before coming back years later. Therefore, it’s possible that you might be treated by someone who isn’t licensed but is still highly qualified. Just be sure to check whether any lapses occurred recently. It may also be good to ascertain what training he/she has had in relation to manual therapy. This is important because if they have a lot, then this will show that you’re dealing with someone who knows what they are doing and how the body works.

11. How Long Have They Been in Business?

You want someone who’s been around for a while so that you know your money is being well spent. If the chiropractor has been treating patients for over twenty years, then that says something about their skill and abilities. It shows that they had an excellent reputation from the beginning and have continued to help people ever since. 

You also need someone with a good deal of experience because no matter how talented he/she might be, if they’ve only practiced with other people before, you can’t expect them to prove themselves right away. 

Referrals are one of the best ways to find out whether or not someone has any idea what they’re doing as well as which nearby facilities they’re affiliated with. If they work with hospitals and other health facilities, then this is a great indication that the person you’re speaking with is highly regarded as an expert in their field. It shows that he/she will most likely transfer those skills to you successfully.

12. What Types of Techniques Does He/She Use?

Online searches can help here because you can check out what others have thought about different options such as manipulation, acupuncture, and surgery. If someone has only been using one technique for all his patient’s care, then that doesn’t say much for him. 

A lot of chiropractors are now integrating multiple strategies, so they are more skilled at addressing your problems effectively. You might also receive advice on nutrition, stress management, or even exercise. If they work with you to try to treat your problem wholly for a long-term solution instead of just dealing with the symptom alone, then this is great news. It also indicates that he/she really cares about your health and doesn’t simply view you as a way to make money in the short term.

If your pain is severe, look for someone who performs manipulation techniques more frequently rather than taking a passive approach with soft-tissue massage therapy. 

There are some providers who only offer manual therapies whereas other companies may also use modalities such as ultrasound or electrical stimulation. You should consider speaking to your doctor before making any final decisions because he/she can offer valuable advice as to which type of provider would be best for you.

13. How Long Does It Take before I Notice Improvement?

Another thing to look out for is if there are any signs of change immediately after they adjust you. You don’t want someone who isn’t able to accomplish what they set out to do effectively. It’s important that pain relief happens quickly so that you know whether or not their treatment will be worth paying for every week or month. If something seems strange or unusual, go over anything suspicious with your doctor to see if it is normal.

14. How Soon Can I Get In?

If you have a lot of pain and want immediate relief, then you need someone who isn’t going to make you wait for weeks or months before they could possibly be able to work with you. Make sure the time slots are convenient so that selecting one doesn’t create more stress. 

You should also find out how many patients he/she has on their appointment list at any given time. This will give you some indication as to how much care they will be able to offer each person. The more patients they have, the less individualized attention they’ll be able to give. 

If something seems fishy about how quickly or easily an appointment is made, then take your business elsewhere.

It’s important that you take some time with your search. Make sure that you ask all these questions during your appointment as well as weigh everything as much as possible before deciding which chiropractor will work best for you. This way, you know what kind of results you can expect from their services, so there are no surprises later on when it comes to how much improvement has been made.

Don’t just go along with the first place or person who answers your phone call. Find out if they’re reputable by asking others who have gone to them before what their experiences were like. If you’ve heard bad things about a given individual or place, then it’s better to find out now than later when you’re committed to going there for an extended period and can’t switch chiropractors if you don’t like the way they work. Just because something sounds great on paper doesn’t mean it’ll be as good in real life.