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Frequently Asked Questions 

The American Chiropractic Association (ACA) receives many questions about chiropractic. Below are answers to the most commonly asked questions.

What conditions do chiropractors treat?

Chiropractic is a health care profession that focuses on disorders of the musculoskeletal system and the nervous system, and the effects of these disorders on general health. Chiropractic care is used most often to treat neuromusculoskeletal complaints, including but not limited to back pain, neck pain, pain in the joints of the arms or legs, and headaches.

How do I select a doctor of chiropractic?

You can locate a doctor of chiropractic (DC) by browsing the ACA Find a Doctor page, searching the Yellow Pages, speaking with friends, or contacting your local chamber of commerce. Because stringent educational and professional requirements are required for state licensure, the public is assured of academic competence and clinical experience.

Does chiropractic treatment require a referral from an MD?

No, a patient does not need referral by an MD before visiting a doctor of chiropractic. Chiropractors are first contact physicians, and are so defined in federal and state regulations. Following a consultation and examination, the doctor of chiropractic will arrive at a diagnosis under chiropractic care, or refer the patient to the appropriate health care provider.

Is chiropractic treatment safe?

Chiropractic is widely recognized as one of the safest drug-free, non-invasive therapies available for the treatment of neuromusculoskeletal complaints. Although chiropractic has an excellent safety record, no health treatment is completely free of potential adverse effects.

The risks associated with chiropractic, however, are very small. Many patients feel immediate relief following chiropractic treatment, but some may experience mild soreness or aching, just as they do after some forms of exercise. Current literature shows that minor discomfort or soreness following spinal manipulation typically fades within 24 hours.

Neck pain and some types of headaches are treated through precise cervical manipulation. Cervical manipulation, often called a neck adjustment, works to improve joint mobility in the neck, restoring range of motion and reducing muscle spasm, which helps relieve pressure and tension.

Neck manipulation is a remarkably safe procedure. While some reports have associated upper high-velocity neck manipulation with a certain kind of stroke, or vertebral artery dissection, there is not yet a clear understanding of the connection. The occurrence appears to be very rare—1 in 5.85 million manipulations— based on the clinical reports and scientific studies to date. If you are visiting your doctor of chiropractic with upper-neck pain or headache, be very specific about your symptoms. This will help your doctor of chiropractic offer the safest and most effective treatment, even if it involves referral to another health care provider.

It is important for patients to understand the risks associated with some of the most common treatments for musculoskeletal pain -- prescription and over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) -- as these treatments may carry risks significantly greater than those of chiropractic manipulation. According to a study from the American Journal of Gastroenterology, approximately one-third of all hospitalizations and deaths related to gastrointestinal bleeding can be attributed to the use of aspirin or NSAID painkillers like ibuprofen.

Is chiropractic treatment appropriate for children?

Yes, children can benefit from chiropractic care. Children are very physically active and experience many types of falls and blows from activities of daily living as well as from participating in sports. Injuries such as these may cause many symptoms including back and neck pain, stiffness, soreness or discomfort. Chiropractic care is always adapted to the individual patient. It is a highly skilled treatment, and in the case of children, very gentle.

Are chiropractors allowed to practice in hospitals or use medical outpatient facilities?

Chiropractors are being recognized to admit and treat patients in hospitals and to use outpatient clinical facilities (such as labs, x-rays, etc.) for their non-hospitalized patients. Hospital privileges were first granted in 1983.

Do insurance plans cover chiropractic?

The majority of all insured American workers have coverage for chiropractic services in their health care plans. For example, the federal government's Office of Personnel Management offers chiropractic coverage for federal employees in both the Mail Handlers and BCBS benefit plans. In addition, there is a chiropractic benefit in Federal Workers' Compensation, and chiropractic care is available to members of the armed forces at more than 40 military bases, and is available at nearly 30 veterans' medical facilities.

What type of education and training do chiropractors have?

Chiropractors are educated as primary contact health care practitioners, with an emphasis on musculoskeletal diagnosis and treatment. Educational requirements for doctors of chiropractic are among the most stringent of any of the health care professions. The typical applicant at a chiropractic college has already acquired nearly four years of pre-medical undergraduate college education, including courses in biology, inorganic and organic chemistry, physics, psychology and related lab work. Once accepted into an accredited chiropractic college, the requirements become even more demanding — four to five academic years of professional study are the standard. Because of the hands-on nature of chiropractic, and the intricate adjusting techniques, a significant portion of time is spent in clinical training.

In total, the chiropractic curriculum includes a minimum of 4,200 hours of classroom, laboratory and clinical experience. The course of study is approved by an accrediting agency that is fully recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

How is a chiropractic adjustment performed?

Chiropractic adjustment or manipulation is a manual procedure that utilizes the highly refined skills developed during the intensive years of chiropractic education. The chiropractor typically uses his/her hands to manipulate the joints of the body, particularly the spine, in order to reduce pain, and restore or enhance joint function. Chiropractic manipulation is a highly controlled procedure that rarely causes discomfort. The chiropractor adapts the procedure to meet the specific needs of each patient. Patients often note positive changes in their symptoms immediately following treatment.

Is chiropractic treatment ongoing?

The hands-on nature of the chiropractic treatment is essentially what requires patients to visit the chiropractor a number of times. To be treated by a chiropractor, a patient needs to be in his or her office. In contrast, a course of treatment from medical doctors often involves a pre-established plan that is conducted at home (i.e. taking a course of antibiotics once a day for a couple of weeks). A chiropractor may provide acute, chronic, and/or preventive care thus making a certain number of visits sometimes necessary. Your doctor of chiropractic should tell you the extent of treatment recommended and how long you can expect it to last.

Why is there a popping sound when a joint is adjusted?

Adjustment of a joint may result in release of a gas bubble between the joints that makes a popping sound – it's exactly the same as when you "crack" your knuckles. The noise is caused by the change of pressure within the joint that results in gas bubbles being released. There is no pain involved.

What can I expect on the first visit?

Your first visit to our office will begin with a small amount of paperwork to fill out. Then there will be a consultation with the doctor to obtain your health and injury history. We will ask you questions as to the cause and nature of your condition and other questions related to your health and symptoms.

Then, there will be a thorough examination including neurologic, orthopedic and chiropactic testing to determine the cause of your problem. If further testing is required, such as x-rays, they will be ordered at that time. You will then be scheduled for a return visit the next business day where we will give you a report of findings.

If yours is a condition we can help, we will tell you what treatment we suggest, how long it should take and what the rate of recovery should be. If we are in agreement, we will begin treatment at that time.

If you do not have a condition we feel will benefit from chiropractic care, we will make the appropriate referral or suggest other options.


Below are the explanations of some of the most commonly used terms regarding chiropractic treatment.

Cold Packs

Cold applied to a body region to relieve pain and swelling, and reduce muscle spasm.

Electrical Stimulation

Electrical impulses applied through the skin using pads that conduct the impulses to the muscles and nerves for the purpose of increasing circulation, decreasing pain and muscle spasm, and facilitating healing of injured soft tissues.

High Voltage Therapy

High voltage, monophasic, pulsed electrical stimulation that has been found to be particularly effective in the treatment of open wounds, decubitus ulcers, and for reducing swelling and control of pain. Very low level current.


You simply lie back, completely clothed, on the table. Just under the surface is a mattress filled with heated water. A pump propels the warm water towards you through three patented hydro-jets. Each jet spins at nearly 200 revolutions per minute. A primary wave and a lighter, secondary wave combine to produce a very effective deep tissue massage to all areas of the spine simultaneously. The combination of flotation, heat and massage produce the therapeutic effects and are described below. Effects of Warm Dry Hydrotherapy are Increases circulation and metabolic rates, Increases mobility, Relaxes and relieves fatigue, Analgesia, Sedation, Promotes tissue healing and repair, Relieves muscle spasms and pain, Helps remove metabolic toxins, Relaxes capillaries and other soft tissues, Increases blood volume and oxygen consumption, Relieves pain of myositis and neuritis, • Soothes irritated cutaneous nerves, Lessens general nervousness, Dilates blood vessels, Soothes nerves of the visceral organs.

Interferential Current (IFC)

This form of electrical stimulation is characterized by the crossing of two electrical mediums using independent frequencies that work together to effectively stimulate large impulse nerve fibers. Pain control is the primary use for IFC. Other common indications include joint injuries, muscle spasm, cumulative/repetitive trauma disorders, and increasing circulation to a body region.

Kinesiology Tape

Kinesiology tape is a thin, stretchy therapeutic tape that can relieve pain, reduce swelling and inflammation, provide structural support to joints and muscles, and enhance athletic performance. While best known as a sports tape for injured athletes, it is also used extensively in healthcare settings to treat a wide variety of inflammatory conditions or to speed recovery after surgery.

Low Level Laser Therapy (Cold Laser)

Cold Laser Therapy is medical procedure in which exposure to low level light or photon energy stimulates cellular metabolism and speeds the healing process of injured areas. Low Level Laser is used to treat a variety of painful and inflammatory conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis, back and neck pain, sports injuries and rotator cuff syndrome among others. There are also positive clinical results using cold laser treatment for stubborn wound healing.

Manual Therapy

A procedure by which the hands directly contact the body to treat articulations and/or soft tissues to achieve a greater degree of mobility or to reduce pain.


Repetitive pressure and kneading motions applied to a body region(s) to break down inflammation and muscle spasm. Types of massage include effleurage, petrissage and tapotement.

Mechanical Force, Manually Assisted

Instrument adjusting. Use of a device that delivers a controlled therapeutic thrust. Examples include (but are not limited to): Activator, Arthrostim, Pro-Adjuster, and Impulse.


Custom-designed shoe inserts that may help to correct an abnormal or irregular walking pattern.

TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation)

This type of electrical stimulation is used primarily for pain control and is unattended. This term is generally reserved for small portable units that convey electrical current through wires and adhesive pads into the affected area that patients use to control pain. Intended for the symptomatic relief of intractable pain syndromes or cases where analgesic drugs would be contraindicated.


The therapeutic use of mechanical tension created by a pulling force to produce a combination of distraction and gliding to relieve pain. Sometimes this is referred to as spinal decompression.

Trigger Point Therapy

Direct compression, proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation/muscle energy technique, local electrical muscle stimulation, and dry-needling. Direct compression of the trigger points includes the following steps: the affected muscle is slowly stretched and direct pressure is placed on the trigger point to the patient's pain tolerance until the pain begins to subside, whereupon more pressure, to patient tolerance is applied. Direct compression should be held for no longer than sixty seconds.