Chiropractic is a health care profession that focuses on the relationship between the body's structure (mainly the spine) and its functioning. Although practitioners may use a variety of treatment approaches, they primarily perform adjustments or manipulations to the spine or other parts of the body with the goal of correcting alignment problems, alleviating pain, improving function, and supporting the body's overall health and wellness.

In the United States, chiropractic is often considered a complementary health practice. According to a National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), which included a comprehensive survey of the use of complementary health practices by Americans, about 8 percent of adults (more than 18 million) and nearly 3 percent of children (more than 2 million) had received chiropractic treatment or osteopathic manipulation.

Many people who seek chiropractic care have low-back pain. People also commonly seek chiropractic care for other kinds of musculoskeletal pain (e.g., neck, shoulder), headaches, and extremity (e.g., hand or foot) problems. Researchers have studied spinal manipulation for a number of conditions ranging from back, neck, and shoulder pain to asthma, carpal tunnel syndrome, fibromyalgia, and headaches. A 2010 review of scientific evidence on manual therapies for a range of conditions concluded that spinal manipulation/mobilization may be helpful for several conditions in addition to back pain, including migraine and cervicogenic (neck-related) headaches, neck pain, upper- and lower-extremity joint conditions, and whiplash-associated disorders.

During the initial visit, chiropractors typically take a health history and perform a physical examination, with a special emphasis on the spine. Other examinations or tests such as x-rays may also be performed. If chiropractic treatment is considered appropriate, a treatment plan will be developed.

During follow up visits, practitioners may perform one or more of the many different types of adjustments and other manual therapies used in chiropractic care. Given mainly to the spine, a chiropractic adjustment involves using the hands or a device to apply a controlled, rapid force to a joint. The goal is to increase the range and quality of motion in the area being treated and to aid in restoring health. Joint mobilization is another type of manual therapy that may be used.

Chiropractors may combine the use of spinal adjustments and other manual therapies with several other treatments and approaches such as:

Is chiropractic treatment safe?
Yes, chiropractic treatment is a conservative and natural approach to health that avoids invasive procedures or addictive drugs. It is a method of health care that focuses on treating the causes of physical problems, rather than treating the symptoms. A functioning spine and unimpaired nerve system is the foundation of good health and promotes the ability for your body to better heal itself. Your spine is the lifeline of your nervous system. It controls movement, feeling and all function throughout your entire body.

What is a subluxation?
A vertebral subluxation is a misalignment of the spine that interferes with your nerves. It can create various health issues including disease, pain, imbalance, fatigue as well as a lowered immune system. Subluxations can cause a decreased range of motion, tingling, numbness, muscle spasm, and "knots" in the muscles. They may also create pain elsewhere in the body; for example, headaches, stomach pain, digestive complaints, breathing difficulty and sinus or allergy issues.

What is an adjustment?
A chiropractic adjustment is the method of using a specific force in a precise direction that is applied to a joint that is subluxated, or not moving properly. This is a safe and natural procedure that eliminates interference to the nervous system, improving spinal function and overall health.

Why is there a popping sound when a joint is adjusted?
An adjustment of a joint sometimes results in release of a gas bubble between the joints that makes a popping sound. It is similar to the noise you hear when you "crack" your knuckles. The noise is caused by the change of pressure within the joint that results in gas bubbles being released. Typically, there is no pain involved.

Does an adjustment hurt?
Some might feel a momentary minor discomfort during the adjustment but this is usually followed by a feeling of relaxation. Others feel a slight soreness for a short period after their first adjustment and usually does not hurt. This can occur because the chiropractor has re-aligned a spinal area that was out of alignment.

Why do chiropractors take x-rays?
Chiropractors take x-rays to reveal the internal structure and alignment of the spine. Taking x-rays provides a way to check for underlying disease and disorders of the spine such as spinal deterioration, arthritis of the spine, abnormal development, bone spurs, disc disorders, tumors and spinal curvature.

Is chiropractic treatment ongoing?
The hands-on nature of 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. A chiropractor may provide acute, chronic or preventive care 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.

What is the difference between a chiropractor and an osteopath?
Chiropractors focus on the detection correction, and prevention of vertebral subluxations (spinal misalignments). They treat these issues through specific spinal adjustments to correct the spine, to improve nerve system functions and reduce nerve interference. Osteopaths treat issues through the use drugs, surgery and other traditional medical therapies and only occasionally use manipulative procedures.

Practitioners: Education and Licensure
All states require completion of a Doctor of Chiropractic degree program from a CCE-accredited college. Examinations administered by the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners are required for licensing and is inclusive of a mock patient session. Most states require chiropractors to earn annual continuing education credits to maintain their licenses. Chiropractic is regulated individually by each state and the District of Columbia. Chiropractic colleges are accredited by the Council on Chiropractic Education which is only the agency certified by the U.S. Department of Education to accredit chiropractic colleges in the United States offer Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.) degree programs.

Chiropractic training is a 4-year academic program that includes both class work and direct experience caring for patients. Admission to a chiropractic college requires a minimum of 90 semester hour credits of undergraduate study mostly in the sciences. Coursework typically includes instruction in the biomedical sciences, as well as public health and research. Additionally, some chiropractors pursue a 2- to 3-year residency for training in specialized fields.