Every year half of all Americans experience back pain, and many undergo surgery to fix the problem. But for those wanting a more conservative approach to pain control chiropractic can be a safe and effective alternative.
Last year 30 million Americans saw a chiropractor for conditions ranging from an aching back to a throbbing head. Today it is the fastest growing health profession.
Doctors of chiropractic take a holistic approach to treating patients—giving special attention to the physiological and biochemical aspects of the body.
It is a drug-free, non-surgical science that involves manipulation of the vertebrae through pushing, pulling, and twisting of the spine. Often the procedure produces a crackling or popping sound called joint cavitation. This release of air takes pressure off the joints.
“We’re not just talking about popping bones, but we’re talking about the dynamics of the system, with one part being dependent on the other part,” said Dr. Jerome McAndrews, spokesperson for the American Chiropractic Association, which represents some 35,000 chiropractors.
The musculoskeletal system comprises 60 percent of the body. Most chiropractors believe that any abnormalities or misalignments in this system could negatively impact other organs of the body. There have been no scientific studies to test this hypothesis. And Dr. McAndrews said the benefits of chiropractic on organs like the lungs or kidneys are mostly anecdotal.
Chiropractic medicine recently got an endorsement from the medical community. Two studies published in this month’s Annals of Internal Medicine found that chiropractic spinal realignment was as effective as treatments offered by medical doctors. And lately the professions have been working together by referring patients to each other.
“If we were to evaluate you first, we would have an MRI done and a CAT scan and do some neurological and orthopedic tests, and say we found that you have a disk pressing directly on a nerve, then we would refer you to a medical physician,” said Dr. McAndrews.
While nerve pressure may be out of the chiropractor’s range of treatment, Dr. McAndrews claims there are 45,000 unnecessary lower back operations performed every year. But those numbers could be trending downwards. More and more doctors are recognizing that non-invasive adjustments can restore function to patients in pain. For example, 57 percent of doctors in the state of Washington said they refer patients with back pain to chiropractors.
The number of patients seeing chiropractors has doubled in the last 15 to 20 years. And many have selected to have a chiropractor serve as their primary care physician.
So what can one expect from their first visit to a chiropractor? Be prepared to spend at least an hour in the office. A new patient will be asked to report their medical history in the form of a questionnaire. Then the doctor will perform a physical examination to measure range of motion, reflexes, and muscle strength. They will also perform diagnostic studies that may include an X-ray, MRI, and other lab tests. Finally, comes the diagnosis, which consists of a treatment plan and the anticipated length of care.
Most patients will start with two visits twice a week for three weeks. At that point their chiropractor will assess their progress and make a recommendation about follow-up care.
Most insurance companies cover the costs of the initial three weeks, but the maintenance care may not be covered.
“If you added it all up, the care of back pain is twice as effective at half the cost if done by a chiropractor,” said Dr. McAndrews, “and you’re back on the job in half the time.”