Introduction to Chiropractic

Hi everyone, and hope you’re all enjoying the summer so far, we are half way through for those of you with school aged children.

For those of you who haven’t met me, I’m a chiropractor at Active Back to Health Centre and I’m very passionate about my career. If you’ve visited our clinic before, you’ve likely overheard me at some point speaking excitedly to a patient behind closed doors – whether it be me educating them on their diagnosis, teaching them ways they can maintain their health at home, or, yes, I admit, engaging in a lively discussion about current events. Given my passion, it is important to me that people understand who chiropractors are, what they do (and don’t do), and how they can help people feel and move better. If you’re curious about chiropractic and are wondering if it could be beneficial to your health, read ahead for some general information about this area of health care. If you have any specific questions or comments, I welcome you to come visit me at Active Back to Health Centre to chat with me in person.

What are Chiropractors?

Chiropractors are primary health care practitioners, meaning that you can visit a chiropractor without a referral from your family doctor. Chiropractors are doctors who are experts in managing the health of primarily the back and neck, but also of other muscles and joints (and sometimes nerves), such as, but not limited to, the shoulders, hips, and knees. Chiropractors can also help manage the symptoms of various non-neuromusculoskeletal conditions. Take asthma, for example: Though chiropractic cannot cure one’s asthma, spinal adjustments, soft tissue therapy, and exercises and stretches focused on the mid-back can help the mechanics of the spinal and rib joints, thereby making it easier to take a deep breath and decreasing overall stiffness in that area of the body. Cerebral palsy is another example of a condition that cannot be cured by chiropractic, yet manual treatment can provide enormous relief for people living with this condition.

Chiropractors have a minimum of 7-8 years of post-secondary education that focuses heavily on anatomy, orthopaedics, radiology, diagnosis, and physiology, to name a few. This extensive educational background equips them with the knowledge necessary to render a diagnosis, which is, of course, the first step in getting people back to good health. It is very important to understand that chiropractors do not only identify when and how they can manage a patient’s mechanical pain with chiropractic treatment, but after a thorough assessment, they can also recognize when a patient’s chief complaint is likely due to a condition we chiropractors are not able to manage with chiropractic, such as cancer, a fracture, or an infection, to name a few. Did you know that kidney infections, cancer, gall stones, and an abdominal aortic aneurysm can all cause back pain? Patients with these conditions will often present to their chiropractor under the false impression that they’ve simply hurt their joints or muscles. In these situations, a chiropractor will always refer the patient to the right doctor or health care practitioner for appropriate management.

Canadian chiropractors provide conservative health care and they can order imaging and lab work if necessary to help determine a patient’s diagnosis, but they do not perform surgery and do not prescribe medication. They will, however, advise patients to see their medical doctors for medication or a surgical consult if they believe that these interventions are a good complementary or alternative method of managing a patient’s particular condition.

What do Chiropractors do?

Chiropractors primarily use their hands and bodies to decrease pain, increase function, and prevent recurrence of injury. It is no surprise that many people do not know what to expect from their first visit with a chiropractor; this is because a variety of techniques are employed by chiropractors. Although spinal manipulation is most commonly utilized, (unless a patient’s health history and/or personal preference steers us towards different techniques), some chiropractors also provide a form of soft tissue therapy for the muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Some prescribe various at-home rehabilitation exercises and use athletic taping to help acute injuries heal. Some chiropractors perform acupuncture, and some utilize modalities such as electrotherapy, ultrasound, laser, or shockwave. It is important to keep in mind, too, that a variety of practice styles exist; some chiropractors are more sports-oriented, whereas others prefer the diversity of managing a general family practice. Even still, some chiropractors are most passionate about treating pregnant women and new mothers. Different techniques and practice styles work for different people, and so it is best to visit a few chiropractors and settle with the one whom you like and trust the most. Consistent with any other small business, chiropractors build their practices best by word-of-mouth; so if you know your sister loves her chiropractor, it would be wise to give him a shot. Remember: Chiropractors are entrusted with their patients’ health and well-being. If dissatisfied with your first chiropractic experience, you should try somebody new instead of giving up on treatment, much like you would find a new hairdresser if you don’t like your current one.

Chiropractic is a great option for those with any kind of ache or pain, either as stand-alone treatment, or in conjunction with other types of health care. Having said that, just as with any other intervention, chiropractic does not work for everybody and a chiropractor will advise you to try something different if your prescribed treatment plan is not helping you as it would be expected to. Your chiropractor should also welcome collaboration with other members of your personal health care team, such as your medical doctor, physiotherapist, massage therapist, etc.

Take-home Message

Did you know that low back pain accounts for the second most common visit to one’s family doctor second only to the common cold, and is the leading cause of disability worldwide? We are all born with spines, nerves, bones, muscles, joints, and tendons. Opting for a balanced lifestyle consisting of a healthy diet, exercise, and a fulfilling social life; and keeping your body limber and healthy by visiting a chiropractor, just as you would get your teeth cleaned periodically by paying your dentist a visit, is important for maintaining your health. I truly believe it is better to prevent problems from occurring than to treat a problem only after it’s negatively impacted your life.
Thanks for reading!

-Dr. Julia Viscomi