A chiropractor is a health care professional that treats disorders of the musculoskeletal system and nervous system and the effects of these disorders on general health. Patients most often see a chiropractor to treat neuromusculoskeletal complaints, including but not limited to back pain, neck pain, pain in the joints of the arms or legs, and headaches.
Doctors of chiropractic practice a drug-free, hands-on approach to healthcare that includes patient examination, diagnosis, and treatment. Chiropractors have broad diagnostic skills and are trained to recommend therapeutic and rehabilitative exercises while providing nutritional, dietary, and lifestyle counseling.
The most common therapeutic procedure performed by chiropractors is known as "spinal manipulation," also called a chiropractic adjustment. The purpose of manipulation is to restore joint mobility by manually applying a controlled force to joints that have become hypomobile as a result of a tissue injury. The tissue injury can be caused by a single traumatic event, such as improper lifting of a heavy object, or through repetitive stress, such as sitting in an awkward position with poor spinal posture for an extended period. In either case, injured tissues undergo physical and chemical changes that can cause inflammation, pain, and diminished function. A chiropractic adjustment of the affected joint and tissues restores mobility and alleviates pain and muscle tightness, allowing tissues to heal.
Chiropractic adjustments rarely cause discomfort, though patients may sometimes experience mild soreness after treatment (as with some forms of exercise) that usually resolves within 12 to 48 hours.
For some conditions, such as lower back pain, chiropractic care may be the primary method of treatment. When other medical conditions exist, chiropractic care can complement or support medical treatment by relieving the musculoskeletal aspects associated with the condition.
Doctors of chiropractic may assess patients through clinical examination, laboratory testing, diagnostic imaging, and other diagnostic interventions to determine when chiropractic treatment is appropriate. Chiropractors readily refer patients to the appropriate health care provider when chiropractic care is not suitable for the patient's condition or if the condition must be co-managed along with other medical specialties.