A chiropractor, or doctor of chiropractic medicine, is a licensed medical professional who specializes in diagnosing and treating disorders of the musculoskeletal and nervous system, especially in the spine. A chiropractor believes that many health problems can stem from the misalignment, or subluxation, of the vertebrae.
The main aspect of treatment in chiropractic care is usually physical manipulation of the joints and the spine to bring them back into alignment. A chiropractor may also recommend exercises or offer health and nutritional counselling. A chiropractor does not perform surgery or prescribe medication.
A chiropractor will evaluate and then treat the patient. When seeing a patient for the first time, a chiropractor will take his or her medical history, perform a physical exam and order any necessary tests, such as x-rays or an MRI. He or she will then develop a treatment plan, which most often will include physical adjustments or manipulations of the musculoskeletal system, but may also include massage, exercises, or other forms of physical therapy. Sometimes a chiropractor will run tests for vitamin and mineral deficiencies and will recommend supplements to correct any identified imbalances.
Initially, the physical manipulation treatments may need to be done quite frequently (perhaps a few times per week). As the body starts to heal, it will need fewer adjustments. Part of the chiropractor's job is to assess the patient's progress and adjust his or her treatment schedule accordingly.
Some chiropractors are more open to using or recommending other forms of medicine or therapies than others. There are basically two schools of thought in modern chiropractic care - 'straight' chiropractic and 'mixer'. Straight chiropractors believe that all illnesses or diseases in the body stem from subluxations in the spine. Mixer chiropractors, who are the majority of chiropractors practicing today, see that as just one part of the overall picture. Obviously, these are the chiropractors that are more likely to recommend other forms of treatment either as a supplement to or even instead of chiropractic care. Some chiropractors even work directly with massage therapists or sports medicine specialists.
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Chiropractors must enjoy working with and helping people, as it is a very hands-on medical profession. They need to be good listeners and observers to help them diagnose their patients. Good communication skills are also important so that they can effectively explain their patient's conditions and treatments to them.
The educational path to becoming a chiropractor is similar to becoming a doctor. The student must take undergraduate courses in science. While requirements to attend colleges of chiropractic medicine vary between schools and countries, many aspiring chiropractors earn a bachelor's degree before applying to chiropractic school. This may eventually become the universal requirement for admission. Currently, the minimum amount of undergraduate education required is 90 credit hours.
A Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) degree is a four-year graduate degree. There are actually more classroom and supervised clinical hours required to earn a DC than for a medical degree. Like medical school, the first two years of chiropractic school consist of mostly classroom learning and lab work in subjects such as biochemistry, microbiology, pathology, anatomy, physiology, and other science courses. In the second two years, students begin clinical work and learn to evaluate, diagnose, and treat patients. This is when they will learn to use diagnostic equipment as well, such as x-rays. Some chiropractic colleges follow a traditional school calendar with summers off, while others are in session all year long so that the program can be completed in a shorter amount of time.
Before being able to practice as a chiropractor, the student must pass national board exams. In the US, he or she will also need to pass their state's licensing exam.
Chiropractors can work independently in their own private practice or as part of a larger group practice. Approximately 44% of chiropractors in the US are self-employed. Some may work in hospitals or larger clinics, and some go on to teach at chiropractic colleges. The demand for chiropractors is on the rise, so job security and opportunities look promising for those in the field.