It is time to discuss the gap that exists in inter-professional collaboration and abate the myths surrounding chiropractic care. I have been a chiropractic doctor for nearly two years and the speculation of the merits of chiropractic care remain the same. I have experienced healthcare professionals (not all) from a wide range of professions tell their patients not to see a chiropractor. I have experienced the impact that social media has on how the public views chiropractic care. I have witnessed first hand the fears and misconceptions that exist within the treatment room.
The source of these views lies in the lack of education surrounding chiropractors and the role they play within the primary healthcare system. Chiropractic started in 1895 when the founder, DD Palmar, delivered his first chiropractic adjustment to a janitor, abolishing an existing hearing issue the janitor was experiencing. Sadly, the majority of the public still believe that chiropractic is just that — an adjustment here, an adjustment there, and you are cured and out the door. The profession has vastly grown since that time.
Chiropractors, like medical doctors, dentists, optometrists, and osteopaths are considered primary healthcare practitioners and are trained in the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of merely any condition. Our “specialty” though, focuses on the spine and extremities and we are viewed by some as the “neuro-musculoskeletal specialists”. In other words, we are not just “re-aligning your spine”. Chiropractors assess, diagnose and treat conditions including but not limited to: Headaches, arthritis, strain/sprain, postural dysfunction, muscle/ligament/tendon tears, pre/post surgical pain, sport-related injury, plantar fasciitis and a wide range of other conditions. We also have the ability to refer patient’s for X-ray examination and refer to other healthcare practitioners if we feel something is outside of our “scope of care”. As such, even if we can not help with your condition we can refer you to the person who can.
In my practice adjustments are only one tool I use to treat my patients. I adjust roughly 60% of my patients. Other treatments I provide are myofascial release therapy, joint mobilizations, exercise rehabilitation, pre/post-surgical rehabilitation, concussion management, athletic taping, kinesiology taping, ultrasound and electrical stimulation. You get the idea. We do not just adjust you and send you on your way. We provide an array off other modalities, and we use the modalities that will work best for your condition.
So, what role do chiropractors play in the greater healthcare community?
When you sustain an injury related to the bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and/or joints of the spine and extremities a chiropractor should be one of your first points of contact. Let me explain — A chiropractor can provide a diagnosis for your condition and when you have a diagnosis this will determine the best course of action for your treatment plan. The practitioner may decide that chiropractic care is best for your condition or he/she may refer you to a massage therapist, a physiotherapist, a medical doctor or another therapist. The practitioner may even refer you for imaging such as X-ray or consult with your medical doctor to order an MRI, diagnostic ultrasound, serology (blood work), etc. The moral of the story is that a diagnosis is KEY. An accurate diagnosis will determine the best route to take for your care and speed up your recovery time.
Debunking Common Myths
Another reason people hesitate to see chiropractors lies in the fears that have been instilled in them through some of the myths around chiropractic treatment. Let me list and debunk some of these myths one by one.
1. Chiropractors break bones. Yes there is an inherent risk with chiropractic manipulation which includes RARE incidents of bone fracturing. However, these incidents typically occur in predisposed individuals like osteoporotic patients for example. If you do not have a predisposing condition the risk of fracture is actually VERY RARE. If the practitioner performs a PROPER history and physical examination to rule out underlying predisposing conditions you should not worry about sustaining a fracture or bone break from chiropractic manipulation.
2. Chiropractors cause strokes. This is a heavily controversial topic. However, I can tell you that in the 123 years of chiropractic existence there has not been any true “conclusive” evidence to say manual cervical (neck) manipulation causes stroke. The research actually shows that there is no more of a risk of stroke from seeing a chiropractor than a medical doctor, dentist or a hair stylist. One study suggested that this risk is as little as one in every 3,000,000 patient visits. Some research suggests that patients are already in the early stages of stroke when seeing a chiropractor and that adverse reactions would have occurred whether a treatment was administered or not. More research is definitely needed in this area. But until some “conclusive” evidence is found I will let you draw your own conclusions based on what I have told you here.
3. Chiropractors can paralyze you. I am not sure where this assumption comes from, but I can tell you there is MINIMAL risk of this; if there is any risk at all. This could only occur in very special circumstances, like treating Down Syndrome patients for example, where there is instability at the atlanto-occipital joint (upper neck) and in other special circumstances. Either way, it is the job of the practitioner to do a thorough history and physical examination and to know when not to adjust certain patients. If this is done, the risk is near zero.
These are just a few of the many assumptions surrounding chiropractic care, but that sums up and debunks the “major myths”.
So, the next time someone suggests not seeing a chiropractor I hope they can support their suggestion. At the very least, do not fall victim to pre-judgement. Educate yourself regarding chiropractic care and why it may actually be a good fit for you, and not something you should avoid and be fearful of.