AskDefine | Define chiropractic

Dictionary Definition

chiropractic n : a method of treatment that manipulates body structures (especially the spine) to relieve low back pain or even headache or high blood pressure

User Contributed Dictionary



From chiro- meaning "hand" from the Greek word kheir meaning "hand" + (praktikos) practical


  1. A system of physical therapy involving manipulation of the spinal column and other body structures

Extensive Definition

Chiropractic (from Greek chiro- χειρο- "hand-" + praktikós πρακτικός "concerned with action") is a complementary and alternative medicine health care profession that focuses on diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mechanical disorders of the musculoskeletal system and the effects of these disorders on the functions of the nervous system and general health. It emphasizes manual therapy including spinal adjustment and other joint and soft-tissue manipulation.
Chiropractors usually obtain one of the following equivalent first professional degrees in chiropractic medicine (D.C. or D.C.M. or B.Chiro or M.Chiro). Chiropractors use a combination of treatments that are predicated on the specific needs of the individual patient. A chiropractor can develop and carry out a comprehensive treatment and management plan that can include spinal adjustments, soft tissue therapy, prescription of exercises, and health and lifestyle counseling.
Chiropractic was founded in 1895 by D. D. Palmer in the USA, and is practiced in more than 100 countries. Since its inception, chiropractic has been controversial, both within the profession and in the medical and scientific community, particularly regarding the metaphysical approach espoused by its founders and advocated by "straight" chiropractors. This same criticism may have been the catalyst that allowed some within the profession to emphasize primarily a neuromusculoskeletal approach in their educational curriculum, leading them away from the original metaphysical explanations of their predecessors towards more scientific ones.
Chiropractors have historically fallen into two main groups, "straights" and "mixers"; both have had off-shoots. Chiropractic also retains elements of materialism, the belief that all things have explanations, which forms the basis of science. Evidence-based chiropractic balances this dualism by emphasizing both the tangible, testable principle that structure affects function, and the untestable, metaphorical recognition that life is self-sustaining.
Chiropractors can adopt or share vitalist, naturalist, or materialist viewpoints and emphasize a holistic, patient-centered approach that appreciates the multifactorial nature of influences (i.e. structural, chemical, and psychological) on the functioning of the body in health and disease and recognizes the dynamics and interplay between lifestyle, environment, and health. This holistic paradigm is also blended with a biopsychosocial approach, which is also emphasized in chiropractic care. In addition, chiropractors also retain naturopathic and naturalist principles that suggest decreased "host resistance" of the body facilitates the disease process and that natural interventions are preferable towards strengthening the host in its effort to optimize function and return to homeostasis.
Chiropractors also commonly use nutrition, exercise, patient education, health promotion and lifestyle counseling as part of their holistic outlook towards preventive health care. Chiropractic's claim to improve health by improving biomechanical and neural function by the manual correction of joint and soft tissue dysfunctions of the neuromusculoskeletal system differentiates it from mainstream medicine and other complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) disciplines, but is also rooted, in part, in osteopathy and eastern medicine interventions. For some, prevention includes a concept of "maintenance care" that attempts to "detect and correct" structural imbalances of the neuromusculoskeletal system while in its primary, or functional state. The objective is early identification of mechanical dysfunctions to prevent or delay permanent pathological changes.
In summary, the major premises regarding the philosophy of chiropractic include:
  • Holism
  • non-invasive, emphasizes patient's inherent recuperative abilities
  • recognizes dynamics between lifestyle, environment, and health
  • spine and health are related in an important and fundamental way, and this relationship is mediated through the nervous system. Still, significant differences exist amongst the practice styles, claims and beliefs between various chiropractors.
Straight chiropractors are the oldest movement. They adhere to the philosophical principles set forth by D. D. and B. J. Palmer, and retain metaphysical definitions and vitalistic qualities. Straight chiropractors believe that vertebral subluxation leads to interference with an Innate intelligence within the human nervous system and is a primary underlying risk factor for almost any disease. Straights view the medical diagnosis of patient complaints (which they consider to be the "secondary effects" of subluxations) to be unnecessary for treatment. Thus, straight chiropractors are concerned primarily with the detection and correction of vertebral subluxation via adjustment and do not "mix" other types of therapies. Their philosophy and explanations are metaphysical in nature and prefer to use traditional chiropractic lexicon (i.e. perform spinal analysis, detect subluxation, correct with adjustment, etc.). They prefer to remain separate and distinct from mainstream health care.
Mixer chiropractors are an early offshoot of the straight movement. This branch "mixes" diagnostic and treatment approaches from naturopathic, osteopathic, medical, and chiropractic viewpoints. Unlike straight chiropractors, mixers believe subluxation is one of the many causes of disease, and they incorporate mainstream medical diagnostics and employ myriad treatments including joint and soft tissue manipulation, electromodalities, physical therapy, exercise-rehabilitation and other complementary and alternative approaches such as acupuncture. Mixers tend to be open to mainstream medicine. Mixers are the majority group.

Vertebral subluxation

Palmer hypothesized that vertebral joint misalignments, which he termed vertebral subluxations, interfered with the body's function and its inborn (innate) ability to heal itself. D.D. Palmer repudiated his earlier theory that vertebral subluxations caused pinched nerves in the intervertebral spaces in favor of subluxations causing altered nerve vibration, either too tense or too slack, affecting the tone (health) of the end organ. D.D. Palmer, using a vitalistic approach, imbued the term subluxation with a metaphysical and philosophical meaning. He qualified this by noting that knowledge of innate intelligence was not essential to the competent practice of chiropractic. This concept was later expanded upon by his son, B.J. Palmer and was instrumental in providing the legal basis of differentiating chiropractic medicine from conventional medicine. In 1910, D.D. Palmer theorized that the nervous system controlled health:
"Physiologists divide nerve-fibers, which form the nerves, into two classes, afferent and efferent. Impressions are made on the peripheral afferent fiber-endings; these create sensations that are transmitted to the center of the nervous system. Efferent nerve-fibers carry impulses out from the center to their endings. Most of these go to muscles and are therefore called motor impulses; some are secretory and enter glands; a portion are inhibitory their function being to restrain secretion. Thus, nerves carry impulses outward and sensations inward. The activity of these nerves, or rather their fibers, may become excited or allayed by impingement, the result being a modification of functionality—too much or not enough action—which is disease."
The concept of subluxation remains unsubstantiated and largely untested, and a debate about whether to keep it in the chiropractic paradigm has been ongoing for decades. This is still a continuing source of debate within the chiropractic profession as well, with some schools of chiropractic (for example, Palmer College of Chiropractic) still teaching the traditional/straight subluxation-based chiropractic, while others (for example, Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College) have moved towards an evidence-based chiropractic that rejects metaphysical foundings and limits itself to primarily neuromusculoskeletal conditions but retains a holistic approach and an emphasis on manual therapy. A 2003 survey of North American chiropractors found that 88% wanted to retain the term vertebral subluxation complex, and that when asked to estimate the percent of visceral ailments that subluxation significantly contributes to, the mean response was 62%.

Scope of practice

Chiropractors are primary-contact health care practitioners who emphasize the conservative management of the neuromusculoskeletal system without the use of medicines or surgery. The practice of chiropractic medicine involves a range of diagnostic methods including skeletal imaging, observational and tactile assessments, orthopedic and neurological evaluation, laboratory tests, A chiropractor may also refer a patient to an appropriate specialist, or co-manage with another health care provider.
Chiropractors generally cannot write medical prescriptions; a 2003 survey of North American chiropractors found that a slight majority favored allowing them to write prescriptions for over-the-counter drugs. A notable exception is the state of Oregon which is considered to have an "expansive" scope of practice of chiropractic, which allows chiropractors to prescribe over-the-counter substances and perform minor surgery. In some locations chiropractors (DCs) and veterinarians (DVMs) with additional training and certification can practice veterinary chiropractic which includes the diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of injured animals. However, the official position of the American Chiropractic Association is that applying manipulative techniques to animals does not constitute chiropractic and that veterinary chiropractic is a misnomer. Chiropractors are also generally permitted to use adjunctive therapeutic modalities such as acupuncture and manipulation under anesthesia with additional training from accredited universities/colleges.
Chiropractic medicine is established in the U.S., Canada, and Australia, and is present to a lesser extent in many other countries. Similar to other primary contact health providers, chiropractors can specialize in different areas of chiropractic medicine. The most common post-graduate diplomate programs include neurology, sports sciences, clinical sciences, rehabilitation sciences, orthopedics and radiology which generally require 2–3 additional years of additional post graduate study and passing competency examinations. Chiropractors may further specialize in fields such as Chiropractic Orthopedics (DABCO), Chiropractic Radiology (DABCR), and Chiropractic Sports Physician (DABCSP) by completing additional study and passing the specified boards that are separate and distinctly different than medical boards.

Education, licensing, and regulation

International training guidelines require that persons without relevant prior health care experience must spend at least 4200 student/teacher contact hours in four years of full‐time education; experienced health professionals need only 2200 hours. Both figures include at least 1000 hours of supervised clinical training. To help standardize and ensure quality of chiropractic education and patient safety, in 2005 the World Health Organization published the official guidelines for basic training and safety in chiropractic. Typically a 3 year university undergraduate education is required to apply for the chiropractic degree.
A Chiropractic Examining Board requires all candidates to complete a twelve-month clinical internship to obtain licensure. Licensure is granted following successful completion of all state/provincial and national board exams so long as the DC maintains malpractice insurance. Nonetheless, there are still some variations in educational standards internationally depending on admission and graduation requirements. Chiropractic medicine is regulated in Canada by provincial statute. Regulatory colleges are responsible for protecting the public, standards of practice, disciplinary issues, quality assurance and maintenance of competency. Today, there are 15 accredited Doctor of Chiropractic programs in 18 locations in the USA and 2 in Canada, and an estimated 70,000 chiropractors in the USA, 6500 in Canada, 2500 in Australia, 2,381 in the UK, and smaller numbers in about 80 other countries.

Treatment procedures

Spinal manipulation, the most common modality in chiropractic care, The medicinal use of spinal manipulation can be traced back over 3000 years to ancient Chinese writings. Hippocrates, the "father of medicine" used manipulative techniques, as did the ancient Egyptians and many other cultures. A modern re-emphasis on manipulative therapy occurred in the late 19th century in North America with the emergence of the osteopathic medicine and chiropractic medicine. Spinal manipulation gained mainstream recognition during the 1980s (see History). In the U.S., chiropractors perform over 90% of all manipulative treatments and consider themselves to be expertly qualified providers of spinal adjustment, manipulation and other manual treatments.
Manipulation under anesthesia or MUA is a specialized manipulative procedure that typically occurs in hospitals administered under general anesthesia. Typically, it is performed on patients who have failed to respond to other forms of treatment.

Utilization and satisfaction rates

Chiropractic is the largest alternative medical profession in the U.S. The percentage of population that utilize chiropractic care at any given time generally fall into a range from 6% to 12% in the U.S. and Canada, The vast majority who seek chiropractic care do so for relief from back and neck pain and other neuromusculoskeletal complaints; most do so specifically for low back pain. Satisfaction rates are typically higher for chiropractic care compared to medical care, with quality of communication seeming to be a consistent predictor of patient satisfaction with chiropractors. Despite high patient satisfaction scores, utilization of chiropractic care is sensitive to the costs incurred by the co-payment by the patient. The use of chiropractic is growing modestly; CAM as a whole is seeing wholesale increases. A 2008 survey stated that 69% of DC chiropractors disagree with the categorization of chiropractic as CAM, with 27% having some preference for the term "integrated medicine."


Chiropractic (also known as Chiropractic Medicine) was founded in the 1890s by Canadian-American Daniel David Palmer in Davenport, Iowa, USA. Palmer and his son B.J. Palmer later wrote that the elder Palmer gave the first chiropractic adjustment to a deaf man, Harvey Lillard, on September 18, 1895, restoring the man's hearing. Lillard's daughter disputed the account, saying that Palmer had merely slapped Lillard on the back after hearing a joke. Investigator Cyrus Lerner found in 1952 that the Lillard story disagreed with other evidence published about the same time, speculated that B.J. had concocted the date of the first adjustment in order to establish priority for chiropractic, and compared the Lillard story to the Tales of the Arabian Nights.

Medical opposition

In 1899, a medical doctor in Davenport, USA, named Heinrich Matthey started a campaign against drugless practitioners. D.D. Palmer insisted that his techniques did not need the same courses or license as medical doctors, as his graduates did not prescribe drugs, perform surgery or evaluate laboratory diagnostics. However, in 1906, D.D. Palmer was convicted for practicing medicine without a license. In response, B.J. created the Universal Chiropractic Association (UCA) for the purpose of protecting its members by covering their legal expenses should they get arrested for practicing medicine.
Its first case came in 1907, when Shegataro Morikubo, DC was charged with unlicensed practice of osteopathic medicine in Wisconsin. Morikubo was freed using the defense that chiropractic philosophy was different from osteopathic philosophy. The victory reshaped the development of the chiropractic profession, which then marketed itself as a science, an art and a philosophy. In 1984, Joseph Janse, DC, ND, attempted to describe the divide in chiropractic and medical philosophy regarding prevention and patient care:
"Unless pathology is demonstrable under the microscope, as in the laboratory or by roentgenograms, to them [medical doctors] it does not exist. For years the progressive minds in chiropractic have pointed out this deficiency. With emphasis they [chiropractors] have maintained the fact that prevention is so much more effective than attempts at a cure. They pioneered the all-important principle that effective eradication of disease is accomplished only when it is in its functional (beginning) phase rather than its organic (terminal) stage. It has been their contention that in general the doctor, the therapist and the clinician have failed to realize exactly what is meant by disease processes, and have been satisfied to consider damaged organs as disease, and to think in terms of sick organs and not in terms of sick people. In other words, we have failed to contrast disease with health, and to trace the gradual deteriorization along the downward path, believing almost that mild departures from the physiological normal were of little consequence, until they were replaced by pathological changes…"
In 1992, the AMA stated "It is ethical for a physician to associate professionally with chiropractors provided that the physician believes that such association is in the best interests of his or her patient. A physician may refer a patient for diagnostic or therapeutic services to a chiropractor permitted by law to furnish such services whenever the physician believes that this may benefit his or her patient. Physicians may also ethically teach in recognized schools of chiropractic." In 1997, the following literature was adopted as policy of the AMA after a report on a number of alternative therapies. The report said (about chiropractic care): "Manipulation has been shown to have a reasonably good degree of efficacy in ameliorating back pain, headache, and similar musculoskeletal complaints."
The British Medical Association (BMA) notes that "There is also no problem with GPs referring patients to practitioners in osteopathy and chiropractic who are registered with the relevant statutory regulatory bodies, as a similar means of redress is available to the patient." In 1997, the BMA identified chiropractic health care as having "the potential for greatest use alongside orthodox medical care."

Internal conflicts

Straights and mixers have had conflicts that continue to this day. Reform chiropractors were an evidence-based off-shoot of mixers who rejected traditional Palmer philosophy and tended not to use alternative medicine methods. In Wisconsin, US, there was local chiropractic support to offset a chiropractic anti-fluoridation campaign.

Wilk et al. vs. American Medical Association

Chester A. Wilk, DC from Chicago initiated an antitrust suit against the AMA and other medical associations in 1976 - Wilk et al. vs AMA et al. The landmark lawsuit ended in 1987 when the US District Court found the AMA guilty of conspiracy and restraint of trade; the Joint Council on Accreditation of Hospitals and the American College of Physicians were exonerated. The court recognized that the AMA had to show its concern for patients, but was not persuaded that this could not have been achieved in a manner less restrictive of competition, for instance by public education campaigns. and could no longer prevent medical physicians from collaborating with chiropractors.

Movement toward science

In the first 50 years of chiropractic, there was a lack of research. The terms science and research were often used as marketing tools. Several decades would pass before research and an interest in science became evident in chiropractic. In 1975, chiropractors joined medical and scientific attendees in a workshop sponsored by the National Institutes of Health on the research status of spinal manipulation. In 1978, the Journal of Manipulative & Physiological Therapeutics (JMPT) was launched. In 1983 the JMPT published an article advocating "a scientific institution with some capability for research" and was considered the beginning of the scientific chiropractic movement. Robert S. Francis, DC, states that "Spinal manipulative therapy gained recognition by mainstream medicine during the 1980s." Various chiropractic groups distributed patient brochures with unsubstantiated claims. In the early 1990s there was little scientific research into chiropractic. In 1993, the Manga report funded by the Ministry of Health strongly supported chiropractic care for lower back pain. A 2001 study says "The Manga report was not a controlled clinical trial but a review of the literature that offered an opinion that has not been experimentally established." A 2002 study states "Chiropractic theory is still controversial, but recent expansion in federal support of chiropractic research bodes well for further scientific development. The medical establishment has not yet fully accepted chiropractic as a mainstream form of care. The next decade should determine whether chiropractic maintains the trappings of an alternative health care profession or becomes fully integrated into all health care systems." Despite internal debate and external opposition, its unified profession suggests it will endure as a relevant component of health care. Evidence-based chiropractors possess the ability to apply research in practice. Continued education enhances the scientific knowledge of the practitioner.


The effectiveness of chiropractic treatment depends on the medical condition and the type of chiropractic treatment. Like many other medical procedures, chiropractic treatment has not been rigorously proven to be effective. Chiropractic care, like all medical treatment, benefits from the placebo response. The efficacy of maintenance care in chiropractic is unknown.
Research has focused on spinal manipulation therapy (SMT) in general, rather than specifically on chiropractic SMT. Many controlled clinical studies of SMT are available, but their results disagree, and they are typically of low quality. It is hard to construct a trustworthy placebo for clinical trials of SMT, as experts often disagree whether a proposed placebo actually has no effect. Although a 2008 critical review found that with the possible exception of back pain, chiropractic SMT has not been shown to be effective for any medical condition, and suggested that many guidelines recommend chiropractic care for low back pain because no therapy has been shown to make a real difference, a 2008 supportive review found serious flaws in the critical approach, and found that SMT and mobilization are at least as effective for chronic low back pain as other efficacious and commonly used treatments. For example, a 2007 U.S. guideline weakly recommended SMT as one alternative therapy for spinal low back pain in nonpregnant adults when ordinary treatments fail, whereas the Swedish guideline for low back pain was updated in 2002 to no longer suggest considering SMT for acute low back pain for patients needing additional help. A 2007 literature synthesis found good evidence supporting SMT for low back pain and exercise for chronic low back pain; it also found fair evidence supporting customizable exercise programs for subacute low back pain, and supporting assurance and advice to stay active for subacute and chronic low back pain. Of four systematic reviews published between 2000 and May 2005, only one recommended SMT, and a 2004 Cochrane review () stated that SMT or mobilization is no more or less effective than other standard interventions for back pain. A 2008 review found evidence that educational videos, mobilization, and exercises appear more beneficial for whiplash than alternatives; that SMT, mobilization, supervised exercise, low-level laser therapy and perhaps acupuncture are more effective for non-whiplash neck pain than alternatives but none of these treatments is clearly superior; and that there is no evidence that any intervention improves prognosis.) found that SMT and mobilization are beneficial only when combined with exercise, the benefits being pain relief, functional improvement, and global perceived effect for subacute/chronic mechanical neck disorder.
  • Headache. A 2006 review found no rigorous evidence supporting SMT or other manual therapies for tension headache. A 2005 review found that the evidence was weak for effectiveness of chiropractic manipulation for tension headache, and that it was probably more effective for tension headache than for migraine. A 2004 review found that SMT may be effective for migraine and tension headache, and SMT and neck exercises may be effective for cervicogenic headache. Two other systematic reviews published between 2000 and May 2005 did not find conclusive evidence in favor of SMT. and a lack of higher-quality publications supporting chiropractic management of leg conditions. A 2007 literature synthesis found fair evidence supporting assurance and advice to stay active for sciatica and radicular pain in the leg. and no scientific data for idiopathic adolescent scoliosis. A 2007 systematic review found that few studies of chiropractic care for nonmusculoskeletal conditions are available, and they are typically not of high quality; it also found that the entire clinical encounter of chiropractic care (as opposed to just SMT) provides benefit to patients with asthma, cervicogenic dizziness, and baby colic, and that the evidence from reviews is negative, or too weak to draw conclusions, for a wide variety of other nonmusculoskeletal conditions, including ADHD/learning disabilities, dizzinesss, and vision conditions. Other reviews have found no evidence of benefit for baby colic, bedwetting, fibromyalgia, or menstrual cramps.


Chiropractic care in general is safe when employed skillfully and appropriately. Its primary therapeutic procedure, spinal manipulation, involves directed thrust to move a joint past its physiological range of motion without exceeding the anatomical limit. Manipulation is regarded as relatively safe, but as with all therapeutic interventions, complications can arise, and it has known adverse effects, risks and contraindications.
Spinal manipulation is associated with frequent, mild and temporary adverse effects, They have been estimated to occur in 34% to 55% of patients, with 80% of them disappearing within 24 hours. and children. The incidence of these complications is unknown, due to rarity, high levels of underreporting, and difficulty of linking manipulation to adverse effects such as stroke, a particular concern. Weak to moderately strong evidence supports causation (as opposed to statistical association) between cervical manipulative therapy (whether chiropractic or not) and vertebrobasilar artery stroke.


The cost-effectiveness of maintenance chiropractic care is unknown and not well researched. Of the limited quantity of studies found, there is diversity in the findings. Spinal manipulation appears to be relatively cost-effective for chronic lower back pain. The cost-effectiveness of spinal manipulation therapy has not been demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt. After initial therapy, preliminary evidence suggests that massage but not spinal manipulation may reduce the costs of care. Chiropractic managed care may reduce overall health care costs.
When comparing primary care physicians (PCPs) medical management to nonsurgical nonpharmaceutical chiropractic management approaches (CAM-oriented PCPs), a followup study demonstrated with some reservations both a reduction in clinical and cost utilization of in-hospital admissions, hospital days, outpatient surgeries and procedures, and pharmaceutical costs when compared with using conventional medicine IPA performance alone. An initial study found that the benefits of chiropractic care for neck pain seem to outweigh the possible risk. When compared with treatment options such as physiotherapeutic exercise (also performed by a chiropractor), the risk-benefit balance does not favor SMT. SMT helps to reduce time lost due to workplace back pain, and thus employer savings.


Although vaccination is one of the most cost-effective forms of prevention against infectious disease, it remains controversial within the chiropractic community. Evidence-based chiropractors have embraced vaccination, but a minority of the profession rejects it, as original chiropractic philosophy traces diseases to causes in the spine and states that diseases cannot be affected by vaccines. The American Chiropractic Association and the International Chiropractic Association support individual exemptions to compulsory vaccination laws, and a 1995 survey of U.S. chiropractors found that about a third believed there was no scientific proof that immunization prevents disease.


External links

chiropractic in Danish: Kiropraktik
chiropractic in German: Chiropraktik
chiropractic in Spanish: Quiropráctica
chiropractic in Esperanto: Kiropraktiko
chiropractic in Persian: کایروپرکتیک
chiropractic in French: Chiropratique
chiropractic in Italian: Chiropratica
chiropractic in Hebrew: כירופרקטיקה
chiropractic in Dutch: Chiropractie
chiropractic in Japanese: カイロプラクティック
chiropractic in Norwegian: Kiropraktor
chiropractic in Portuguese: Quiropraxia
chiropractic in Finnish: Kiropraktiikka
chiropractic in Swedish: Kiropraktik
chiropractic in Turkish: Kiropraktik
chiropractic in Urdu: معالجہ بالید

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