What is Chiropractic

‘Done by hand’  is the literal translation of the two Greek words cheir (meaning ‘hand’) and praktikos (meaning ‘practised’ or ‘done’), chosen by the inventor of Chiropractic, Daniel David Palmer in the late 1800s, to name his technique. According to his beliefs, the effects of the musculoskeletal system, in particular the spine, on the nervous system has an effect on the body’s overall health. Misalignments of the vertebrae in the spine are believed to lead to health problems because they prevent normal nerve functions. Chiropractors, therefore, use hands-on manipulation techniques to correctly align the spine so as to alleviate a variety of problems.

Chiropractic treatment technique primarily involves manipulation of the spine with emphasis on careful movement of the vertebrae, in order to allow for a wider range of motion than before manipulation takes place.  Chiropractors are highly trained professionals who are able to assess exactly how far a patient’s range of movement extends without damaging the joints.

Chiropractors specialise in musculoskeletal problems, mainly those of the back and neck and primarily involve manual therapy through massage and manipulation, but they also treat a wide range of problems in soft tissue and conditions relating to the nervous system. For instance, Chiropractic has been the subject of much research and found to be helpful with conditions such as: low back pain, fibromyalgia and headaches, whiplash after car accidents, asthma in children and colic in babies.

Some practitioners focus on muscular or skeletal issues; others hold that spinal manipulation can be used to alleviate many other disorders like middle-ear infections, diabetes or cancer.


What to expect

The initial examination by a trained chiropractor is to determine the root of your problem; this often includes a hands-on examination. The chiropractor will look at your posture, observe you carrying out a range of movements, noting in particular the mobility of the spine (although chiropractic treatment works on all joints, muscles and nerves of the body). Together with taking a full medical history and relevant information about any accidents or surgery and about your lifestyle, before any treatment is carried out, an x-ray may be taken to confirm an accurate diagnosis (chiropractors are qualified to take x-rays).

You’ll be asked to strip down to your underwear. You may be asked to stand, sit or lie on a couch for treatment.
After a very careful assessment, usually some manual therapy is applied to the problem areas of the back. The chiropractor may turn the upper spine one way and the lower spine the other way to reveal which vertebrae need adjustment.  At the end of the range of movement, a quick but firm thrust at exactly the right place is given, to direct a physical force into the spine, to allow the joint to spring back into position. Sometimes a click or crack can be heard; this sound is gases in the synovial fluid – fluid that lubricates the vertebrae, which has built up, bursting with a popping or clicking sound. It may be disconcerting at first, but ought not to be painful.

Other techniques employed by the chiropractor may include soft tissue massage to aid back strengthening and help alleviate pain and discomfort, and ‘dry needling’ which is similar to acupuncture, or a relatively new procedure electrical stimulation.

You may be given a set of rehabilitative exercises, including stretching to improve mobility together with some nutritional advice and possible vitamin recommendations and lifestyle changes.  These are all tailor-made for each patient.

Some people feel better instantly, others experience aching or stiffness, later the same day or the next day, until the body settles down after the manipulation. You may need five or six visits over a few weeks, more for chronic conditions.


The effects & benefits

The three main areas that Chiropractic can improve are:

  • Function – the way each part of your body operates
  • Alignment – ensuring that all your muscular and bone systems are correctly brought into line
  • Mobility – how flexible you are and how easily you can move.

In the process of aligning the spine, stress and strain on the body’s nervous system is released, which should alleviate the pain. The areas where a relieving effect can be felt include:

  • Back pain (from which, incidentally, more than half the UK population will suffer form at some time in their lives).
  • Neck pain (a common location for stress-related pain, and for instance, whiplash after a high-impact crash in a car).
  • Chest or abdominal pain (related to anxiety or any other conditions)
  • Shoulder, arm or wrist pain,
  • Injuries to the leg, knee, ankle or foot (either through accident or long-term wear and tear)
  • Migraine or headache
  • After-effects of falls, accidents, sudden impact or surgical operations.

Chiropractic is a gentle, skilled hands-on approach which makes slight but specific adjustments to improve the mobility of the back which helps to improve the efficiency of the nervous system.

If a patient has a chronic or acute back problem, it is not always possible to correct or alleviate the pain in just one visit. Also you may need to carry out a set of corrective exercises in between visits.  Even if a series of visits are necessary, you should definitely feel the benefit of a chiropractor’s manipulation and adjustments after the first visit. Chiropractic techniques work without the use of drugs, which can often mask – rather than alleviate – pain, and work on the root cause of the pain with any given back problem the benefits can give long lasting and resolve problems.   In some cases there is a need to re-educate our posture or understand the way we use our backs in order to make eradicate or minimise pain in our lives.

Chiropractors in the UK undergo a four-year undergraduate and one-year post graduate course, which means patients presenting with a variety of muscular-skeletal problems can be assured of being in the hands – literally – of highly qualified healthcare professionals.  It is also reassuring to know that all chiropractors are regulated by law and must be registered and approved by the General Chiropractic Council within the United Kingdom.


Fascinating Facts about Chiropractic

  • Second only to the common cold, Low back pain is the next greatest cause of lost work days! And in recent research, funded by the Ontario Ministry of Health, it is stated that:  ‘On the evidence, particularly the most scientifically valid clinical studies, spinal manipulation applied by chiropractors is shown to be more effective than alternative treatments for low back pain…’
  • Chiropractors are the third largest healthcare professionals after medical doctors and dentists in the UK. Although once thought of as ‘alternative’ therapists, the practice is gaining acceptance. 94% of all manipulations of the spine are performed by chiropractors
  • Founded by Canadian Daniel David Palmer in 1895 in Davenport, Iowa, a former magnet healer, had the idea that manipulating the spine by hand could cure disease. Early chiropractors believed all disease was caused by interruptions to the nervous energy or life force which was represented God’s presence in man. Their correspondence shows that both Palmer and his son Bartlett Joshua considered declaring chiropractic a religion, but didn’t because they thought it might be confused with Christian Science.
  • Spinal manipulation has been recorded throughout history; Hippocrates is reputed to have said, ‘Look well to the spine for the cause of disease’.
  • The story of the invention of chiropractic goes like this: Harvey Lillard, a caretaker in Canada, had worked hunched over for many years in a restricted, slouching position, one day he felt his back ‘give’, and he suddenly lost his hearing. Seventeen years later, in 1865, Canadian healer Daniel David Palmer adjusted some small bones in Harvey Lillard’s spine and cured both his backache and his deafness.
  • The difference between chiropractors and osteopaths is that chiropractors tend to work directly with the bones, and osteopaths also work with the soft tissues (muscles, ligaments and tendons).
  • There is a galaxy of stars and celebrities who are happy customers of chiropractic. There are even websites where the famous sing the praises of chiropractic attributing to it their stardom, sports success and political campaign victories. For instance, Arnold Schwarzenegger one-time bodybuilder, actor and Governor of California, is reputed to have said, ‘It is truly one of the few professions that really helps people in a straightforward way with no monkey business …this Chiropractic is the real thing. . ..Chiropractic is about natural, preventive healthcare. . . Whenever I have a problem — or even if I don’t have a problem — and I go to a Chiropractor, my problems are gone for a long time.’
  • Tiger Woods, American professional golfer, is reported as saying: ‘I’ve been going to chiropractors for as long as I can remember. It’s as important to my training as practicing my swing.’


Professional Organisations

General Chiropractor Council

The Chiropractors Act 1994 provides statutory regulation for the profession and the title ‘chiropractor’ is protected under this legislation.  The statutory regulator is the General Chiropractor Council (GCC).

British Chiropractic Association

Founded in 1925, The British Chiropractic Association (BCA) is the largest and longest-standing association for chiropractors in the UK, and over half of the UK’s registered chiropractors are members of the BCA.  BCA only accepts members who have graduated from a nationally or internationally-recognised college of chiropractic education, after a minimum of four years full-time training.

The College of Chiropractors

The College of Chiropractors was established during 1997 and incorporated in 1998 as an independent body to develop, encourage and maintain the highest possible standards of chiropractic practice for the benefit of patients.

McTimoney Chiropractic Association

McTimoney employs slightly different technique from standard chiropractic practice. One hand is placed over the bone needing adjustment and a subtle, ‘glancing strike’ is given with the other hand. This sends healing energy to the bone and surrounding tissue.

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