What Do Chiropractors Do?

When it comes to back pain, neck pain, headaches and just general aches and pains, there are a multitude of treatment options at your disposal. Which is the most suitable for you?

You and your family should expect nothing short of the most beneficial care. With spine related back and neck pain being one of the leading causes of disability worldwide, it is critical to seek out the proper approach to resolving your issues.

So, where does chiropractic fit into this and is it really all about simply reducing pain?

What is Pain?

Pain is merely a symptom. That’s important to understand when talking about health and chiropractic.

With time, most pain will eventually subside to a tolerable degree if not completely, whether with the help of medication or not. The underlying problem is that the source of the pain is often still there; however, once you are no longer experiencing any pain you mistakenly believe you are healed. Hence the mindset of “just toughen up and deal with it.”

This leads to many people who experience intermittent chronic pain that never truly goes away and wonder why. The result is often a bigger problem over time that moves beyond annoying and into impacting your ability to function.

An alternative approach, and one that is gaining more and more popularity with the prescription pain drug abuse now classified as an epidemic(1), is chiropractic care.

Surveys show that chiropractors are used more often than any other alternative provider group with high satisfaction rate and steadily increasing patient use which has tripled in the past two decades.(2)

What is Chiropractic?

On a broad spectrum you can seek conservative or non-conservative care for a health condition. Let’s dive in to evaluate our options. Chiropractic, physical therapy, massage and acupuncture are all forms of conservative care. Non-conservative care tends to require a more invasive approach, such as surgery, injections or prescription medications (ingested chemicals) and is recommended and performed by medical doctors.

Depending on the severity of the injury, disease or condition you may need immediate medical intervention or even surgery. This is a rare scenario but still needs to be addressed. Logic would tell us that any condition not life-threatening should initially be treated with a more conservative approach and then move towards more invasive approaches if the conservative care isn’t working in a reasonable time period.

Chiropractors are musculoskeletal specialists who have expertise in caring for a variety of spine related conditions including neck pain, lower back pain and headaches. One of the main differences between chiropractors and other healthcare providers is their ability to find and correct a condition called a subluxation. A subluxation is a slight misalignment and restriction of the motion in the joint space that connects two spinal bones (called the ‘intervertebral joint space’). This restriction can lead to associated muscle tension, nerve irritation and a host of symptoms that may accompany it, including pain.

Depending on which resources you access, a subluxation may lead to anything from a low back ache to compromised lung function. This argument of how far reaching a subluxation can be is not within the scope of this document. The research is out there.

However, one irrefutable fact is that if left untreated it can result in the development of adhesions in the stuck joint space(3) and evidence shows that the immobilized joints can also lead to premature osteoarthritis (degeneration).(4)

What is an Adjustment?

Chiropractors improve subluxated spinal bones by administering a specific force into the stuck spinal bones and joint spaces to free up the motion and in some cases even improve alignment. The force is called an adjustment.

It may be administered by hand or via an electric or spring-loaded instrument. The amount of pressure or force applied to the stuck spinal bones depends on the age and size of the patient as well as their overall general health.

For example, the average pressure used to adjust a healthy adult may be 300 to 400 newtons. The adjustment force for a child is typically less than 30 newtons. As a reference point – the typical pressure used for typing on a keyboard is 13 newtons of force.

While a chiropractic office may limit the practice to the adjustment, many chiropractors offer services beyond ‘chiropractic.’ It is important to understand that chiropractic is not the only strategy you should employ for conservatively improving spine related problems such as subluxations. Stretching and strengthening, improving diet, getting more rest, reducing stress and changing postures at work and home are great examples of the next step approaches that must be made to make lasting improvements in your spine.

Chiropractic is a field that philosophically incorporates preventative or maintenance care that is part of a healthy lifestyle. Most chiropractors reinforce and educate their patients to live a healthy and active lifestyle that allows them to be functionally fit. Just like anything else, it takes time to learn and incorporate a new lifestyle to prevent subluxations in the future.

Most chiropractic care plans require multiple visits to restore proper motion and then recommend continued care – at a lesser frequency – beyond this point to prevent future subluxations and to ensure the spine stays mobile and healthy.

Chiropractic care is a lot like exercise. You workout to get in shape but you must continue to workout to maintain that shape. And just like exercise, routine chiropractic maintenance care is not something you must do to stay alive but it has been proven through many studies to improve the quality of your life.


1. Unintentional Drug Poisoning in the United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2010. Prescription Drug Abuse. White House Office on National Drug Policy. Accessed November 2013.

2. Source: Meeker, Haldeman (2002), Annals of Internal Medicine

3. Cramer GD, Henderson CNR. Little JW, et al; Zygapophyseal Joint Adhesions after Induced Hypomobility. JMPT 2010;33(7); 508

4. Videman, Experimental models of osteoarthritis: The role of immobilization. Clinical Biomechanics, 2:223-229, 1987