Chiropractic remains one of the most widely used forms of manual medicine – treatment that uses the hands to manipulate the body. (The word “chiropractic” comes from Greek roots meaning “done by hand.”) Although it was formally introduced in 1895, chiropractic follows the tradition of hands-on manipulation that goes back to ancient systems of treatment in China, India, and Egypt. Originally, it focused entirely on the spine and on the notion that minor slippages (called subluxations) of vertebrae would pinch spinal nerves and lead to all manner of diseases. This concept is now dated, although today’s chiropractors still concentrate on spinal manipulation as a means of relieving pain, primarily chronic low back pain, neck pain, tension headaches and, sometimes, pain in the knees, shoulders and elbows.
I think chiropractors correctly stress the importance of the spine to general mind and body health, and feel that their manipulative technique may be of real value, particularly for back and neck pain. If you haven’t tried chiropractic and have back or neck pain, a few sessions could prove beneficial. However, if you feel no better after two weeks of treatment or if your pain worsens, I would advise looking for help elsewhere. I also would try to avoid or at least minimize the routine use of X-rays by chiropractors to diagnose spinal misalignment.
I don’t recommend chiropractic for people with serious bone problems, such as osteoporosis, bone or joint infections, bone cancer, acute rheumatoid arthritis and diseases of the spinal cord or bone marrow. The rare complications that have been reported from chiropractic care have primarily occurred from the traditional high pressure, low speed manipulation. Other chiropractic methods, such as Activator, utilize a high speed, but low pressure technique that may be more appropriate for the elderly.
To find a good chiropractor, ask for recommendations from friends, family members or from your primary care physician. Make sure any practitioner you choose has a degree from an accredited four-year chiropractic college. Avoid anyone who tries to lock you into long-term treatment or asks you to sign a contract. You can also look for chiropractors in your area via the American Chiropractic Association, the International Chiropractors Association, or find a specially trained Activator Methods Chiropractor.
Andrew Weil, M.D.