Manual spinal adjustments are the key to chiropractic treatment. In fact, the word chiropractor is derived from the two Greek words cheiros and praktikos, which together mean "done by hand."

Chiropractic adjustments are very popular in the United States, with as many as 20 million Americans receiving treatment.1 Because there are major philosophical and theoretical differences between the ways chiropractors and medical doctors treat back pain, there is often a rift between these two groups. Recently, the gap between chiropractors and medical doctors has started to narrow as they have begun to share information and provide each other with more insight into their respective methodologies, practices, and treatments.

Chiropractors today are more likely to refer a patient to a medical doctor when they suspect that an underlying condition may be responsible for back pain, and some chiropractors insist that their patients have a primary care physician they can communicate with in order to ensure the patient is receiving the best quality care. In this sense, chiropractors are becoming more integrated into the broader spectrum of providers who treat back pain.

How Can a Chiropractor Help?

Chiropractors often have different methods of adjustment, but the theory behind the success of chiropractic treatment is that realigning the spine relieves pressure on the spinal nerves, which can help to restore natural nerve function throughout the body. As such, they believe that a "well-aligned" body is more likely to be in a state of natural balance and will experience less pain and disability. Today, chiropractic care includes electrical stimulation, diathermy, ultrasound, and a variety of other therapies, but the mainstay of treatment remains manual spinal adjustment or manipulation.

What Should I Expect When Visiting a Chiropractor?

When you visit your chiropractor for the first time, you will probably be asked for a general medical history and asked to complete a questionnaire about the type of back pain you are experiencing. Then, he or she will typically perform a hands-on examination that involves moving your neck and limbs around to determine your limitations.

Sometimes, the chiropractor will take x-rays of your back to determine which vertebrae are misaligned. However, the diagnosis and treatment of misaligned vertebrae (also called vertebral subluxations) can be a contentious issue between medical doctors and chiropractors, since there is often some disagreement between these two groups about what constitutes a spine that is out of alignment.

Lastly, your treatment with the chiropractor will involve spinal adjustments and manipulations in an attempt to correct misalignments. Some chiropractors also use vitamins, massage, and electrical therapies as part of their treatment.


  1. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Chiropractic: An Introduction. Accessed February 27, 2017.