Chiropractic FAQ

Q: What is Chiropractic and can it help me?

A: Chiropractic is a natural, non-surgical, drug-free healing art and science. Chiropractors believe disease results from an inability of the nervous system to maintain proper health, due to misalignments in the skeletal structure causing pressure on adjacent nerves. Treatable conditions are numerous and include the most common ailments in our society such as low-back pain, headache, migraines, sprains, and strains. Basically, any condition that could benefit from restoring the proper nerve transmission to the affected area might benefit from chiropractic care.

Q: How many years of college are required to become a licensed Chiropractic?

A: Both doctors of chiropractic and medical doctors complete the same two-year pre-med requirements and attend four additional years of college. Chiropractors receive in excess of 4,000 hours of instruction in the field of health sciences, including instruction in human anatomy, physiology (the study of how the organs in the body work) biochemistry, and nutrition. Additionally, chiropractors receive a great deal of training in radiology to take and diagnose x-rays, physical diagnosis, chiropractic technique, and physical therapy. Each chiropractic student is required to perform a clinical internship program as a student doctor within a college approved chiropractic clinic. Before graduating, each student must pass a National Board series of examinations, and after graduation, each doctor must pass their State Board of Chiropractic examination to become a licensed practitioner.

Q: What kinds of conditions do they treat?

A: In general, chiropractors treat conditions of the neuromusculoskeletal system like back aches, headaches, leg pain, arm pain, numbness, tingling, etc., however, many conditions resulting from improper nerve supply to the area, like digestive disorders, may also benefit from chiropractic care. In fact, the first chiropractic adjustment ever given restored the hearing in a hearing impaired patient! As to the scope of practice, it is defined by each state as determined by state law makers. In some states, the scope is limited to diagnosis and treatment of subluxations (the misalignment between two vertebra that results in nerve interference) and the adjustment (correction of the misalignment). Other states expand this scope to include physical modalities (physical therapy, massage, acupressure, etc.) as well as nutritional counseling and other holistic (natural healing) therapies.

Q: Are different types of treatment available?

A: Yes. In fact, several. Chiropractor's use these different "techniques" to adjustment (move a vertebra to relieve pressure on a nerve). Most adjustment techniques rely on direct physical application of a directed force on the spine to re-align the mis-aligned vertebra. Alternatives to these manual adjusting methods are techniques that stimulate different muscle sites to re-align the vertebra or tractioning techneques (mild pulling) to relieve pressure on the spine and improve alignment. For instance, a technique called Cox flexion-distraction, named after Dr. James Cox, uses a mild pumping traction application to reduce disc herniations (slipped discs.)

Q: How was Chiropractic discovered?

A: Chiropractic was founded by Daniel David Palmer, a healer, who performed his first chiropractic adjustment in 1895. Palmer's first patient, Harvey Lillard, had a vertebra in his spine misaligned, which regulated the region of the head and neck. Mr. Lillard was hard of hearing. Palmer believed the two problems were connected and the correction of the spinal misalignment might improve the hearing condition. An adjustment was applied the area of the spine where the neck turns into the upper back. Mr. Lillard's hearing was reported to have improved following the treatment, and the word spread about this new method of healing. In 1898, Dr. Palmer opened the first college of chiropractic in Davenport Iowa. It remains open today as: Palmer University with expanded campuses in California and Florida.

Q: Are x-rays necessary?

A: X-rays are a very important part of the diagnosis process, but in some cases, may not be needed. It will be up to your Doctor of Chiropractic to determine what would be best for you. X-rays also help determine the type and amount of treatment needed. The only way this important information can be gathered is through x-rays. If you do need x-rays, modern technology has greatly reduced the radiation a patient receives during an x-ray exam.

Q: Do chiropractors specialize?

A: Some chiropractors do specialize. For instance, some chiropractors love to care for children and may take post-graduate certified courses to become chiropractic pediatricians. There are similar programs for radiology, orthopedics, neurology, nutrition, and sports injury. To determine if a doctor of chiropractic has a specialty, consult our listings and look for added initials after the D.C. in the name. For instance, a certified chiropractic sports-injury practitioner would add the initials C.C.S.P. Something like Fred Jones, D.C., C.C.S.P.

Q: What should I discuss with my chiropractor about my course of treatment?

A: Here are some common questions to discuss...

  • Has the doctor treated others with my type of condition and what were the results? It's good to know your doctor's level of experience.
  • What tests, examination, x-rays, lab tests, etc. are generally required? Keep in mind this usually varies depending on the complexity and severity of the condition.
  • What type of treatment is needed and how is it performed? Ask your doctor if any procedure you do not understand can be explained or demonstrated.
  • How much time will be needed for an average visit? Visits can be a short as a few minutes or about a half an hour if other therapies are involved.
  • How will the office handle billing and insurance?
Q: What will my first visit be like and if I need an adjustment, will it hurt?

A: While some chiropractors reserve the first visit to getting to know all about your condition, some may also offer treatment at the end of the examination. If an adjustment is required, the good news is most patients will tell you that adjustments to the spine or extremities don't hurt. In fact, many patients relate a strong feeling of relief after an adjustment is made. If the area is extremely tender, your doctor may even recommend a few treatments with modalities, such as ice and ultrasound, to reduce the swelling in the area prior to beginning adjustments.

Typical first visits may include:


A history helps the doctor determine what to look for in the examination. It is helpful to know things like when symptoms started and if the condition had occurred before. You may be asked to provide a list of any current medications you are taking. You may be asked about your relatives, to help determine if your condition might be genetic. Also things like the time of day or night symptoms bother you the most if they are not constant, and the type of pain or dysfunction you experience. Also, it's important to know what makes the symptoms better and what makes them worse. Your answers to all of these questions will help your doctor determine what to look for on your exam.


Your doctor will check the areas of your complaint, and probably measure the motion of your joints (how far you can turn, bend, etc.) These figures help to access your present conditions and chart your progress. Your reflexes may be checked and your blood pressure recorded. Your muscles may be tested to see if there is any loss of strength in an affected area. Your posture may be checked as well as your gait (how you walk.) All of these tests are commonly referred to as orthopedic and neurological tests. These tests are all really quite simple and do not involve using needles or electricity. Actually, you may well find that this examine is one of the best physical exams you have ever had.


Your doctor may determine a set of x-rays are required to look at the underlying cause of your condition. Often, films may be taken the same day as the exam, however, the report of findings for the exam and x-rays may scheduled for your next visit.

Report of Findings:

When the doctor has determined a diagnosis from the history, exam, and the x-rays, if needed, he or she should discuss these findings with you and set up a course of treatment plan. This is the time to ask about how many treatments the doctor believes will be needed to achieve the desired outcome.


Your doctor will apply any needed adjustments and your doctor or a team member may apply other physical therapies. Your doctor will generally provide you with recommendations to follow for home care such as not to lift or ow to lift, how to sit, sleep, etc. In some cases you may be fitted with a brace or other orthopedic device to help prevent re-injury. You may also be recommended one or more nutritional supplements.


In some rare cases, patients have reported immediate relief of symptoms after only one treatment, but this is not typical. It is more common to have some relief and gradual improvement over time. If you feel there are times between treatments you loose some progress, you should discuss this with you doctor. You might aggravating your condition with some activity but it may also be part of your healing cycle. The important thing is that your over-all progress improves over time. Also, in some difficult cases, your response may not be one of relief for a certain amount of time. Generally, your doctor can inform you if this is suspected. For instance, in an acute trauma, such as an auto accident, the condition may worsen due to the bodies natural swelling response for the first three days.

Q: How long does it take to get better?

A: This is a hard questions to answer because it varies not only on the condition, but the individual. For instance, some people heal more quickly than others. Some people have more swelling from minor accidents than others and some people have a more severe injury than would otherwise be expected from the physical appearance. In brief, everybody is different. There are some general guidelines. Muscle strains take about 3 weeks to heal. Sprains 6-8 weeks. Low back disc injuries take about 3 full months. The important thing to remember is this: You should feel better during the course of healing and treatment will help you to heal better. This means the tissue that repairs the injured area will be stronger and more organized than it would be if nothing was done. This can help prevent weakness in the area to prevent future re-injuries. What about chronic conditions? Chronic conditions may improve after a course of treatment, and a your chiropractor may recommend monthly treatments or as needed treatments to decrease recurrence.

Q: Can my chiropractor refer me to a medical specialist, if needed?

A: If your chiropractor determines your condition requires medical attention, or if medical treatment is needed along with chiropractic care, your chiropractor can make the necessary referral. In many cases, if a referral is needed to an orthopedist or a neurologist, your chiropractor may have a working relationship with these specialist. If the medical specialty is of a different nature, your chiropractor may refer you back to your general medical practitioner with the results of your tests. Your general practioner can then make the referral for you.

Q: What is the cost and will my insurance cover my care?

A: Charges for treatment vary from city to city. Treatments generally are less expensive in under-populated areas. The good news is chiropractic has proved time and time again to be lower cost than most medical alternatives. This was demonstrated in a study based on work related injuries. It is certainly much less expensive than back surgery. Your Doctor of Chiropractic should be able to provide you with the approximate costs during the report of findings. As for making payments, some offices have payment plans and insurance staff that can call on your behalf to check your coverage. Many plans do cover chiropractic and care. Most plans cover at a percentage. Some good plans cover up to 80% of reasonable and customary charges. It is always best to talk with the staff to determine what your insurance will pay and what portion of the charges (co-pay) may be billed to you.

DISCLAIMER: The questions and answers contained in this FAQ are for informational purposes only. These articles are not intended for self-diagnosis or treatment. Users of this site should consult with their doctor before making any decisions regarding their health.