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 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.
A chiropractor has an expansive diagnostic education, while a physical therapist has a therapeutic, or intervention-based education. Although a chiropractor can provide rehabilitative exercise and modality treatments to the client, his/her main type of treatment is spine manipulation. A physical therapist may also provide manual therapy-type techniques to their patients, but activity modification, therapeutic exercise and modalities are the foundation and focus of a physical therapy practice.
Also relevant for Physical Therapist
A chiropractor has extensive experience and practice at using manipulation of the spine as a treatment technique. Some chiropractors also use muscle release techniques like A.R.T. (Active Release or Trigenics). Similar to a chiropractor, a physiotherapist has the ability to manipulate the spine and perform muscle release techniques. In addition, they can also use acupuncture, help the client work on posture and balance, teach core stability exercises, and help prevent the problem from arising again by showing the client rehabilitative exercises they can do at home.
Also relevant for Physiotherapist
Chiropractors and osteopaths share a common philosophy about the importance of the health of the spine in ensuring good health - the main focus from both is to remove pain and aches from the body. A chiropractor has certain techniques that he will use for manipulating the spine. An osteopath also has techniques for spine manipulation, but will also include other techniques like stretching, pressure, mobilization, and craniosacral therapy. One of the main differences between a chiropractor and an osteopath is that an osteopath will not 'click back' a joint the way a chiropractor does. In many countries, an osteopath is trained as a physician and will see and treat patients as ordinary doctors. In the United States, there are about twenty osteopathy hospitals offering a full range of health care, and osteopaths in the US are trained in surgery.
There are a variety of reasons why someone will visit a chiropractor: strains and sprains, work and sports-related injuries, headaches, whiplash, neck pain, arthritis, restricted movement in the shoulders-neck-back or limbs, gait correction, and for general health and well-being.
Before committing to becoming a chiropractor, it is advisable to read some chiropractic literature, books and magazines to see if the natural healing philosophy is right for you. If you decide to become a chiropractor, know that the first few years in school are going to be tough. Just put your nose to the grindstone and before you know it you’ll be in clinic. What you learn in school is extremely important, but your real education begins after you graduate. Ask a current chiropractor that you wish to emulate if they can mentor you, and shadow them if possible - ask some great questions that will build clarity as to what you'd like to do. Don't forget to take some courses in marketing, advertising and business, as you will need to know the business side of chiropractic as well.
Chiropractors get a lot of satisfaction from treating people who have given up on the medical system and are looking for a drug-free way to a healthy and pain-free life. It is up to the individual chiropractor to choose the scope and focus of his/her practice. They may choose to offer only chiropractic services to their patients, or may choose to add other natural healing methods, such as acupuncture, massage therapy, and nutritional supplementation.