Chiropractic is an alternative form of medicine based on the theory that adjustments to the spine can treat health problems and improve general well-being. Studies have shown chiropractic to be effective in easing lower-back pain and some types of headaches. The benefits for nonspinal conditions – such as high blood pressure, attention deficit disorder, and ear infections, for example – have been suggested but not scientifically proven.

An Iowa doctor, Daniel David Palmer (1845-1913), is credited with founding modern chiropractic medicine in 1895. The word is derived from the Greek terms for hand (cheir) and action (praxis). Palmer believed that the body has a powerful self-healing ability, but that misalignments of the spine interfere with its natural flow of energy.

Chiropractic treatments involve manipulating the joints and bones in a person’s spine beyond their passive range of motion by using sudden twisting, pulling, or pushing movements. The goal of such treatments is to reverse damage caused by accidents, bad posture, or other spinal problems.

Potential side effects resulting from spinal manipulation include temporary discomfort, headache, and fatigue. Serious complications are rare but include lower-back pain or weakness from damaged nerve roots and blockage of blood supply to the brain from damaged arteries.

Some chiropractors use heat or ice, electrical stimulation, acupuncture, or ultrasound to help relax a person’s muscles before spinal adjustment. They may also incorporate healing strategies such as dietary supplements, rehabilitative exercise, and nutrition and weight-loss counseling.

About 20 percent of Americans have received chiropractic care at some point in their lives, a 2002 national study found. Compared with other forms of alternative medicine, chiropractic is frequently covered by insurance: Many health care plans, including Medicare and Medicaid in some states, cover chiropractic services.

Additional Facts

1. Doctors of chiropractic (DCs) must complete 3 years of undergraduate study plus 4 years of accredited chiropractic school.
2. Half of all working Americans say they have back pain. It is the second most common reason for a visit to the doctor in the United States.
3. The “backbone” is made up of 33 doughnut-shaped bones called vertebrae.

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