Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on August 01, 2023
8 min read

A chiropractor is a licensed healthcare professional who focuses on your body's capability to heal itself.

Chiropractic is a healthcare profession that cares for your neuromusculoskeletal system—the bones, nerves, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. A chiropractor helps manage back and neck pain through the use of spinal adjustments to maintain good alignment.

Chiropractic is focused on the body's ability to self-heal and includes other treatments like nutrition and exercise.

By improving the neuromusculoskeletal system's ability to perform, chiropractors believe the benefits of spinal adjustment and realigning joints improve the functioning of other systems throughout the body.

Chiropractor vs. osteopath

Both areas are very similar. Chiropractors and osteopaths both work with your bones, connective tissue, and muscles to help with your body's function and structure. Osteopaths usually take a 4-year course to earn their BSc degree (BOst). Chiropractors have 4-5 years of training including a BSc in human sciences and chiropractic, as well as a year of postgraduate training. Then, they'll earn their degree in chiropractic.

Both experts use a common technique called the "high velocity thrust." This is a short and sharp motion done on your spine. It can be done in many ways. Chiropractors usually push on your spine with their hands, while osteopaths tend to use your arms and legs to make the thrusts. Many other movements are shared between the two professions.

Your chiropractor might use X-rays to help diagnose you, while an osteopath usually uses them to rule out other potential issues.

Treatment with your chiropractor might include six sessions. The first ones might be more frequent, while the later sessions may be on a weekly basis. With an osteopath, you'll tend to go to them "as needed" instead.

Chiropractors conduct an examination of a patient, looking at their spine's position and muscle reflexes. They also perform tests to diagnose the patient's condition, then come up with a treatment plan and monitor progress.

Chiropractors do not prescribe pain medication. Instead, they rely on and assist the body's ability to heal itself. A chiropractor's primary therapy is spinal manipulation where they use hands or instruments to apply force to a joint in the spine, moving the joint in a specific direction for better alignment.

Your chiropractor may perform treatments such as:

Adjustments. This can help realign your body, allow you to move better, and lower any pain you have.

Exercise. Your chiropractor might have you stretch or do certain exercises to help with joint mobility and balance.

Soft tissue therapy. This can help ease spasms, tension, and tight muscles in your body.

Kinesio taping. Your chiropractor might perform joint bracing or tapping to help with sprained joints or muscles.

Other treatments might include hot and cold treatment, diet and weight loss counseling, or relaxation methods.

Sometimes to relieve pain, chiropractors will go further by using massage therapy, ultrasound, braces, and shoe inserts. They might also refer you to other specialists like integrative medicine experts. They can give you more information on how to lower inflammation and keep a healthy weight through nutrition.

Where do chiropractors work?

Many chiropractors work alone, many times in special rooms within their own homes. Some also work in group clinics, general practices, or multidisciplinary practices.

Some chiropractors have contracts with health authorities, primary care groups, or other practices as well.

While chiropractors don't hold a medical doctor (MD) degree, they are doctors of chiropractic care. They're not medical doctors but are still considered doctors. Chiropractors study a lot of the same subjects that medical doctors do. This includes physiology, orthopedics, anatomy, microbiology, radiology, and more. They also have a very similar amount of patient experience time, hours spent in classes, and time spent in labs like medical school students.

In the U.S., the Doctor of Chiropractic degree is usually a 4-year program on top of 3 years of undergraduate study.

All states require a chiropractor to earn a Doctor of Chiropractic degree, pass the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners exam, and obtain a license to practice in that state. Doctoral programs provide studies in life sciences like anatomy and physiology. They also provide supervised experience in making assessments, hands-on spinal adjustment techniques, and business training.

In order to start a Doctor of Chiropractic degree program in the U.S., you must have at least 3 years of undergraduate education. To give out this degree, an institution must be accredited by the Council on Chiropractic Education.

This degree includes classes that cover anatomy, physiology, and other basic sciences. It also provides supervised clinical experience where you learn different hands-on skills.

You may also choose to complete postgraduate education in more focused areas, like pediatrics or orthopedics.

Some states require a background check and exams in that state's laws about chiropractic. And as a condition of ongoing licensing, all states require continuing education.

Chiropractor salary

Chiropractors made a median salary of $75,000 per year (or $36.06 per hour) as of 2021.

Low back pain, neck pain, and headache are the most common problems for which people seek chiropractic adjustment. Chiropractic care is a useful pain management resource. Chiropractors ensure the muscles surrounding the joints are working properly.

Chiropractors can also treat arthritic joint functioning. Depending on the type of arthritis, the chiropractor may provide gentle manipulation to increase range of motion and reduce muscle spasms.

A chiropractor can also treat things like:

  • Pain or issues after whiplash or an accident
  • Joint pain or joints that won't function properly
  • Stiff muscles or muscle aches

Chiropractor for sciatica

If you have pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness from sciatica, a chiropractor may be able to help you. They can help figure out what's causing the issue. Plus, you don't need a referral to see a chiropractor, and they're covered under most insurance plans.

Your chiropractor can analyze your symptoms and decide the next best step. This might include:

Therapy. This might include heat application, massage and manipulation, acupuncture, stretching, and exercise.

Medications. They may suggest you talk to your doctor about a short-term prescription muscle relaxer, anti-inflammatory drug, or steroid.

Imaging scans. You may need to have an X-ray or MRI to look deeper into your pain.

Referrals. Your chiropractor may refer you to an occupational therapist, a physical therapist, or an acupuncturist.

If you do not want to use medication, see a chiropractor to manage or eliminate your pain in the low back, neck, and head. But there are other reasons to seek chiropractic therapy. They include:

  • Preventing disease
  • Increasing energy
  • Fostering overall well-being

It generally takes 6-10 visits to a chiropractor for most people to experience relief.

How much does a chiropractor cost?

Every location will have different prices. On the low end, an appointment may cost as low as $20. But it could range anywhere up to a few hundred dollars per appointment. If you have insurance, check to see if it covers your appointments. But some practices don't take insurance at all. This is because it can be difficult for practices, especially smaller ones, to go through the process of working with insurance companies.

Some practices also offer sessions in packages. If you buy sessions from a practice that does this, you'll pay up front for multiple sessions as opposed to paying per session.

Your first visit to the chiropractor will begin with an assessment. You will likely be given a list of health questions to complete. Your chiropractor may also want to know if you have a history of migraines, your sleeping patterns, your diet and if you are physically active.

You will also have a physical exam including your posture, a test of your muscle strength, your arm and leg mobility, and anything out of the ordinary like a shoulder or hip out of alignment.

Your chiropractor may also take an X-ray.

During a chiropractic procedure

Your chiropractor is trained in over 150 techniques, most of which rely on gentle manipulation.

To access various areas of your body, your chiropractor may position you in different ways. But usually, you will be on a specially padded chiropractic table, face down for chiropractic adjustments. As your chiropractor realigns your spine or joints using controlled force, you may hear popping and cracking sounds.

Your chiropractor may place you on a drop table, designed with sections that drop down when pressure is applied to the back. Another piece of equipment your chiropractor may use is known as an activator, a small device that may be used for gentle manipulation.

Following a chiropractic procedure

For several days following your visit, you may have a mild headache or feel fatigued or have soreness in the treated areas.

On rare occasions following a chiropractic procedure, some people experience problems that include:

However, most people experience immediate relief and over time see their health improve. Your chiropractor can provide you with valuable information such as good posture when standing, sleeping, and sitting at a desk.

You should contact your primary care physician if your chiropractic care does not alleviate your pain or if it gets worse. Also, contact your doctor if you notice anything unusual like feeling weak or experiencing numbness.

Chiropractors focus on your body's capability to heal itself. They work on your bones, nerves, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. They perform things like adjustments, exercise therapy, soft tissue therapy, and kinesio tapping. Chiropractic is similar to osteopathy. Chiropractors aren't medical doctors, but they go through similar schooling and training like medical doctors. They treat many different issues including low back pain, neck pain, and headache.

What does a chiropractic adjustment do for you?

Controlled and sudden force on your spinal joint will help improve the motion of your spine and your body's overall physical function.

Are chiropractors good for lower back pain?

Chiropractors can help you solve your lower back pain. In rare cases, you could have serious complications. Don't get adjusted for lower back pain if you have cancer in your spine, a higher risk of stroke, a bone abnormality in your upper back, severe osteoporosis, or numbness, tingling, and loss of strength in an arm or a leg.

What is chiropractic therapy used for?

Chiropractic therapy cares for your neuromusculoskeletal system (bones, nerves, muscles, tendons, and ligaments).

Is chiropractic therapy good for you?

Chiropractic therapy can be very helpful. In rare cases, it can lead to issues.

Is chiropractic safe for sciatica?

Yes, chiropractic is safe and effective for sciatica.

Can chiropractors reduce swelling?

In some cases, chiropractors could help with your swelling. But make sure you know the cause of inflammtion first. For example, swelling with arthritis shouldn't be treated with chiropractic.