I think we have all heard the common rumors surrounding chiropractic. There are a lot of myths in the chiropractic profession. Some myths are pro-chiropractic, and some are anti-chiropractic. Here are some:
Once you see a chiropractor once you need to see them for the remainder of your life.
It’s dangerous to get your neck adjusted.
Chiropractors aren’t real doctors.
You need to get adjusted to realign your spine.
Getting adjusted removes interference between the nerves in your spine.
Chiropractors can help all conditions.
Chiropractors and medical doctors inherently don’t get along.
Depending on whom you talk to you’ll hear differing opinions, but what’s true? There’s always evidence to support differing opinions, but I am going to break down three myths that are most common in our practice.
1. Getting your neck adjusted is inherently dangerous.
2. Your spine is being realigned after an adjustment.
3. Chiropractors aren’t real doctors.
I am going to break down each myth from my point of view. I will refer you to evidence as needed.
Myth 1: Getting your neck adjusted is dangerous.
First, I think it’s important to explain what’s happening when you have your neck adjusted. When a licensed provider applies spinal manipulation to your neck, there are two common outcomes. Both outcomes usually occur simultaneously.
Improved joint mobility – to the adjusted segment and or segments above and below.
Decreased pain perception – due to a phenomenon called gate theory.
There are other possible outcomes regarding cervical spinal manipulation, but these are the two most common results.
So, the next question is this is having neck adjusted safe? As always, this depends on whom you talk to and what their bias is.
But, before I go into my opinion and the evidence, let’s go through the evidence-based triad. Practicing evidence-based (or “evidence-informed”) care involves incorporating three factors when making a clinical decision:
The provider’s experience
The patient’s preference
For years many people relied heavily on research, but didn’t take time to consider the providers experience. Spinal manipulation research is hard to conduct because it’s virtually impossible to provide a fake adjustment. One of the many points I provide when breaking down this myth is this, “If chiropractors cause neck damage as much as the media says, how would there still be a chiropractic profession?” Iatrogenic deaths are deaths caused by a medical professional, which are almost entirely allopathic medical doctors and supporting staff. Iatrogenic deaths stand at 250,000 per year. For the record, this isn’t meant to attack the medical profession, but is meant to simply highlight their bias towards chiropractic. It’s called “practice” for a reason and all humans will eventually make mistakes this is part of life.
Skip the following paragraph unless you enjoy learning more details about the research tagged above
The research article I linked at the top is one of my favorite research articles because it’s specific to a high-risk population. Beneficiaries are an age group where individuals are beginning to take social security and Medicare supplemental income. This demographic is important for cervical spine research because this age population is at higher risk for atherosclerosis, which is plaguing inside the arteries. This means the research would suggest beneficiaries would be more susceptible to cervical spine manipulation but, this is not what the search shows. Overall neck adjustments are safe even on the elderly population. Through a thorough examination a licensed clinician can usually find any potential red flags or contraindications for spinal manipulation. Between the empirical data and my anecdotal experience the chances for neck damage after spinal manipulation are exceptionally low.
Myth 2: Your spine is being realigned after an adjustment (spinal manipulation)
This myth has been around since 1895. In 1895, Daniel David Palmer, the founder of chiropractic, brought chiropractic to life. For the following decades, chiropractors thought by applying a specific adjustment to a vertebrae, you would remove “nerve interference”, allowing the body to heal itself if it got the proper nerve “flow”. It’s important to highlight these conclusions were provided by the best research of their time. Personally, I think these conclusions would probably be different if Dr. Palmer was alive today, but there is no way to substantiate that claim. As research and technology began to advance, the profession realized this wasn’t what was happening. Spinal manipulation is a passive modality to provide motion to a singular joint or multiple joints. This distinction is important, as patients will self-identify with the ‘joint out of place’ theory, which places them at a higher risk for psychological dependence on their provider.
Let's review one more time what’s probably happening when an adjustment is applied to a specific joint.
Increased joint mobility – This means there will be more motion in a joint or multiple joints. The longevity for this adjustment will look different for each patient. (After spinal manipulation is applied the patient could benefit from rehab through a larger range of motion. This will be discussed in a future article.)
Decreased pain perception – This phenomenon is called gate theory. “Gate theory is a mechanism, in the spinal cord, in which pain signals can be sent up to the brain to be processed to accentuate the possible perceived pain, or attenuate it at the spinal cord itself. The ‘gate’ is the mechanism where the pain signals can be let through or restricted.” (https: www.physio-pedia.com/Ga)
So what is happening? There is a joint mobility issue at the joint, that may be causing pain, and an adjustment restores this mobility and decreases pain.
The moral of the story is chiropractic adjustments are probably not moving bones back into place, but this doesn’t mean the benefits from being adjusted aren’t important.
Myth 3: Chiropractors aren’t real doctors
This ‘myth’ is interesting because the Latin translation for “doctor” is “teacher”. Highlighting how many classroom hours chiropractic students take in order to receive their degree isn’t important to me. This statement usually furthers the divide between chiropractors and medical doctors. This simply doesn’t make sense, as both professions benefit from each other when the patient’s care is the center of their attention. Whether or not this is a myth doesn’t matter because this will always depend on someone’s opinion. For years, the pain-model has been based around doctor-centered care, but changes in research have pushed our professions towards a patient-centered care model. Both chiropractors and medical doctors provide unique benefit for their patients. Trying to be a jack-of-all-trades is a disservice for our patients. Providers simply don’t have enough time to address every problem. When providers work together to better their patients’ their treatment outcomes usually improve.
Hopefully the information in this article has been beneficial for clearing up a few myths surrounding chiropractic. If you have any further questions or myths you’d like addressed, please comment below!