Depending on the type of chiropractor one visits, the expectations about the chiropractic session differs. The end result, however, should be that the patient finds that proper alignment can reduce symptoms, and perhaps help the body heal itself.
Types of Chiropractors
In general, there are two types of chiropractors: straight and mixed. The straight chiropractor believes that misalignments, or subluxations, can interfere with nerve impulses, and that can affect the brain’s ability to regulate all of the body systems. Symptoms may subside, but that doesn’t mean that the subluxations have been resolved. Additional treatment, monitored by x-rays and computerized tests will be done until the subluxations are corrected. Mixed chiropractors will work to resolve symptoms and provide pain relief, as the spinal manipulations re-align the spine. They will decompress the joints through a variety of techniques, from manual adjustments, to electrical stimulation, to various exercises and therapies, and they may even include other alternative and complementary techniques in their practice, such as massage and acupuncture.1
In general, chiropractic exams include consultation, case history, a physical examination (that may include x-ray), and an assessment of the areas of pain and pain duration. Chiropractors will determine what makes the pain feel better or worse. Occupational, psychosocial, family, and dietary history will also be discussed. The chiropractor will manually palpate the spinal segments (static and in motion) to determine which areas are fixated, or restricted.2 A typical exam may last 45 minutes, during the initial consultation process. The DC may also perform general tests, such as ones for respiration, pulse, blood pressure, and reflexes. They will also assess the range of motion, muscle tone and strength, and neurological integrity. By the end of the exam, it can be expected that the condition will be diagnosed, a determination will be made if the situation can be treated with chiropractic care, a treatment plan will be introduced, and possibly the estimated duration/time-frame of chiropractic treatments will be discussed.3
The Treatment Plan
Most chiropractors will begin treatment at the first visit. Recommendations for future treatments will likely focus on particular joint dysfunctions, as well as soft-tissue work. That may include methods to help the soft tissues heal and to reduce pain. Electrical stimulation, ultrasound, and traction are common soft tissue therapies. Chiropractors will also recommend exercises patients can do at home, so that continued work can be done and maintained between adjustments. Patients will be educated in various ergonomic and posture choices. There may be dietary and supplementation suggestions. Patients may be advised on seating and sleeping arrangements. During the treatment, chiropractors may employ heat and cold, as well as massage therapy. Patients can expect short-term goals, such as restoring movement and pain relief, as well as long-term goals, which can include maintenance and normal functionality. Typically, chiropractic treatments can range from 1-3 visits per week for about a month, to less frequent follow-up visits over a longer period of time.4 This can vary, depending on the condition and the type of chiropractor seen.