Chiropractic is a health care discipline that specializes in the non-surgical, non-pharmaceutical treatment of musculoskeletal conditions; i.e., those that involve muscle and soft tissues, joints and nerves. Secondarily, it is concerned with spine-related mechanical obstruction to the nervous system and the effect it has on general health. Chiropractic is most often sought to treat complaints such as back, neck and joint pain; pain radiating to the arms or legs, and headaches.
Doctors of Chiropractic practice a manual therapy (hands-on) approach to health care. The process involves standard orthopedic and neurological examination, diagnosis and treatment. Chiropractors generally have broad diagnostic skills and have training in therapeutic and rehabilitative exercise. Chiropractors typically encourage their patients to modify their nutritional, dietary and lifestyle habits to improve quality of health.
The central therapeutic procedure used by chiropractors is spinal manipulation, also known as chiropractic adjustments. This manual procedure is done to restore joint mobility by applying a controlled force into joints (particularly spinal vertebrae) that have lost some degree of range of motion and/or alignment relative to adjacent joint surfaces (commonly referred to as joint dysfunction, or segmental dysfunction). The procedure is usually delivered by hand, but small instruments may be incorporated as well.
Joint dysfunction usually involves injury; either a single event injury such as a fall or car crash; or micro-injury such as that which occurs from long periods of repetitive movements (computer keyboarding, tennis serve, using vibrational equipment, etc.). In both cases, injured muscles, ligaments and tendons undergo physical and chemical changes that often lead to inflammation, pain, and somtimes loss of strength, sensation, and range of motion (mobility) for the sufferer. Chiropractic adjustments to the involved joint and soft tissue structures helps restore joint biomechanics, thereby alleviating pain, reducing muscle spasms and allowing the structures to heal properly and return to their original state.
In some rare cases, chiropractic adjustments can causes discomfort. Patients, especially those who have just started chiropractic treatment for the first time, and/or those who have conditions that have reached a chronic level (an injury that occurred five or more years prior) may experience mild soreness or aching following treatment that usually resolves in several days.
For many types of non-emergency musculoskeletal conditions, such as general lower back pain, chiropractic care can be the primary treatment strategy. When other medical conditions exist, chiropractic may be complementary to medical treatment by addressing the musculoskeletal aspects associated with the condition.