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Chiropractic

This article was prepared in consultation with Russell Dean, a graduate of the Anglo-European College of Chiropractic and a registered chiropractor. He is a member of the British and European Chiropractic Associations and recently became one of the first chiropractors in the UK to be accepted on to the register of the General Chiropractic Council.

What's the origin of chiropractic?

Spinal manipulation has been used for thousands of years around the world to try and solve health problems. The modern version was developed by Daniel D. Palmer in the 19th century, and was called chiropractic from the Greek words for ‘doing’ and ‘hand’ (‘praktikos’ and ‘cheiro’).

Palmer's first patient was his janitor, who had been deaf for 17 years following a neck injury. Palmer claimed to have 'clicked' a joint back into place, and the man's hearing returned. Palmer was actually jailed for practising medicine without a licence, but his son took up the cause and chiropractic began to become popular.

How does chiropractic work?

Like many other complementary health practitioners, chiropractors look at the body as a whole when they treat you. A chiropractor considers the body to be like a living machine – if a joint is misaligned or damaged, the smooth running of the machine can be upset, causing inflammation, pressure on nerves and illness.

Chiropractors believe stress, poor posture and accidents, including sports injuries, can stop the body running smoothly. They believe that almost any aspect of health might be affected by problems in the spine. For instance, pressure on nerves connected to the intestines could be the root cause of some digestive disorders. So chiropractic manipulation of the spine at the point where these nerves emerge from the spinal cord could remedy such a disorder.

What happens during a treatment?

Your first session with a chiropractor often involves an assessment of posture, mobility of your joints, and sometimes lifestyle. There are various standard tests such as the Thomas test, which determines mobility in the hip joints, and the Yeoman's test, which involves the practitioner flexing your legs one at a time to assess the joints for sprain and mobility. The chiropractor might also ask you to bend, raise your legs, test your reflexes, take your blood pressure or even an x-ray to build up a more detailed picture of a problem. As with osteopathy chiropractors try to track down restricted or excessive joint movement, especially in the spine, because they believe these problems are the cause of inflammation, swelling and pressure that leads to pain and illness.

A chiropractor might use massage to loosen stiff muscles before focusing on manipulation techniques. Manipulation usually involves a sharp, precise thrusting movement of a joint to 'free it up'. There are several standard techniques aimed at making so-called ‘adjustments’. For instance, the Toggle Drop involves a swift and precise pressure applied with the hands to specific bones in the spine while you lie face down. The Bunyon adjustment involves the practitioner applying stretch between the bones of the spine – traction – to adjust it. The various manipulations often cause clicking noises, which can be quite alarming to the patient and may cause a little pain or discomfort at the time, but this quickly eases off, and the procedure has been shown to be extremely safe.

Chiropractic will often provide effective long-term management of a condition and fully relieve symptoms. Patients may return only for a once-yearly maintenance session or if they have further problems. Chiropractic (similarly to osteopathy) will

help you achieve better posture, and the chiropractor may suggest lifestyle changes to help your overall health, as well as teaching you some easy exercises to do at home.

What problems can chiropractic help?

Chiropractic is thought to help with

Asthma
Digestive problems
Disc injuries
Headache and migraine
Joint, posture and muscle problems
Menstrual pains
Sciatica
Spine and neck problems
Sports injuries
Tinnitus and vertigo.

Where's the evidence?

There have been various clinical trials of chiropractic, several of which have been reported in the well-respected British Medical Journal. The research reports showed that chiropractic worked better at treating acute back pain than standard treatments offered in hospital on an out-patient basis. The Clinical Standards Advisory Group in the UK, which helps the NHS decide on approaches to healthcare, recommends chiropractic for back problems in its guidelines for GPs.


Millions of pounds are spent each year in the UK and elsewhere on clinical trials into the effectiveness of different back pain treatments, one of which is chiropractic.

What do doctors think about chiropractic?

Chiropractic had a poor image among the medical profession for most of this century – in fact, in the 1960s, the American Medical Association condemned it as an 'unscientific cult', a label they were forced to retract in 1987. Nowadays chiropractors work alongside orthodox doctors in hospitals and sports clinics.

In Britain, chiropractors made sure they built up research evidence, and in 1994 The Chiropractors' Act gave them official recognition. This means that if you use a registered chiropractor, you have the security of knowing they are a state-registered health professional.

Many doctors still prefer to send patients to an osteopath, but you are almost as likely to be referred to a chiropractor by your GP, though usually only for musculo-skeletal problems. However, clinics and community health centres often have chiropractors on site, complementing the work of the doctors and nursing staff. One thing that more and more doctors agree on is that the old advice of long periods of lying flat and still, or restrained in a medical corset, is not the way to treat back problems.

What should I look for in a practitioner?

Your GP should be able to help you find a good chiropractor. You can also find out more about the treatment and find a reputable practitioner through the General Chiropractic Council (GCC), which operates the Chiropractic Registration Information Service (ChRIS). They can be reached on 0845 601 1796 or visit the GCC website at http://www.gcc-uk.org for a list of registered chiropractors.

You don't need a GP referral to see a chiropractor - you can book an appointment as you might with a dentist. There are certain problems like fractures, infections and tumours that can't be treated by a chiropractor, and they will refer you back to your GP.

If you're interested in the history of chiropractic, try the UK Chiropractic Website at http://www.chiropractic.org.uk.