Have you been told you need to see a chiropractor but you’re not sure if you do? Or have you thought about going to a chiropractor but you don’t if they could help you?  Or maybe you’ve just always been curious what a chiropractor does, then this article is for you.

You may be surprised that these are fairly common questions.  If you’ve never been to a chiropractor, then you may not be familiar with what makes a chiropractor different from a medical doctor or a physical therapist.

A brief history of chiropractic (no, really this will be short)

While the practice of using the hands to “adjust” people has been around for thousands of years, the profession of chiropractic came into existence in the 1890s.

Daniel David Palmer.jpg
DD Palmer, after winning the “Coolest Beard in Iowa” contest.


It was founded by D.D. Palmer, who theorized that when the segments of the spine (vertebrae) move out of place, they put pressure on the nerves that come out of the spine.  He believed that this nerve pressure interfered with the body’s ability to function properly.

The point here is that because all the nerves come from the spine, then if we want to improve “nerve flow” we should focus on making sure the spine is moving correctly.  This is why chiropractors are primarily focused on treating the spine.

Of course, at the time D.D. came up with this theory, he really didn’t have a way to test it.  All of the cool, advanced imaging and tests that we have nowadays weren’t available back then.

Another part of the chiropractic philosophy that started with D.D. was that the best defense against disease and disability was a good offense.  He stressed being proactive in preventing disease which meant eating healthy, exercising, and, of course, chiropractic care.

Fast forward about 120 years later and we’ve made some progress on that earlier theory. Chiropractors, for the most part, don’t believe the “bone out of place” model anymore.

There is some evidence that an adjustment (the preferred method of treatment in chiropractic) can cause some changes in the other systems of the body, like the nervous system, but nothing that we can consistently prove.

What we do know is that when the body, specifically the joints, don’t move properly the body can start to experience some problems.  These can include degeneration and tissue changes, which can eventually lead to pain and loss of function.

Also, many have recognized that these changes happen not only in the spine but in all other parts of the body and treat more than the spine.

What Does A Chiropractor Do?

So, now that you know a little of the history and where a chiropractor’s focus lies, what do we do?

In a nutshell, a chiropractor identifies and corrects joint dysfunction in the body.  While that seems fairly simple, it can include a number of things to help improve your health.  This, also, isn’t restricted to just back and neck pain.  Chiropractors treat all the major joints of the body.

The primary method of treatment for a chiropractor is an adjustment.  Typically, chiropractors will perform what we call a high-velocity, low-amplitude (HVLA) adjustment which is just a fancy way to say we use a lot of speed and a little force to put motion into a joint that isn’t moving properly.

This adjustment is generally performed with our hands.

Now, not all chiropractors will do this.  Some will use an adjusting instrument which works on the same principle as a manual adjustment.  There are patients that prefer instrument adjusting to manual adjusting and vice versa.  Neither is necessarily right or wrong but it is important that you go to a chiropractor that will use a technique that you are comfortable with.

I use both in my office.  I have some patients that only want a manual adjustment while others only want an instrument adjustments and some even prefer a mix of both such as manual adjustments for their lower back and instrument adjustments for their neck.

In addition to correcting joint motion, many chiropractors will help to improve any muscle imbalances you may have.  This could include stretching tight muscles and strengthening weak muscles.

As a matter of fact, in my office, I tell my patients that if they will commit to doing the stretches and exercises that I recommend, they wouldn’t need to see me near as often.

The reason this is important is that the muscles attach to the bones so if they are out of balance, then they will continue to cause the joint dysfunction that we are trying to improve.

(There is a concept called tensegrity that explains this relationship pretty well.  It can get a little detailed so I’m not going to go over it but if you need a little help getting to sleep tonight, you can read more about it here.)

One of the more common things that chiropractors will also do is give you nutritional advice.  Your nutritional status can have a lot to do with how much pain you’re dealing with.  Chiropractors don’t prescribe medications so we look for natural means to treat conditions in our office, like nutritional supplements.

The Standard American Diet (SAD) is very pro-inflammatory which means what you’re eating on a regular basis could possibly increase your pain.Something as simple as getting enough Vitamin D can have an impact on the amount of pain you feel.

Lastly, a chiropractor may use some different machines to treat your pain or tight muscles.  These include; electrical stimulation which helps pain and inflammation, ultrasound which can help reduce muscle tightness, and laser therapy which can help repair tissues.

What Makes Chiropractic Unique?


What makes chiropractic unique is that it is a conservative, non-invasive method of treating the source of pain instead of just the symptoms.

And, there isn’t a laundry list of side-effects like there is with more traditional methods of treating back and neck pain such as medications and surgery.

Besides, evidence has shown that the more invasive forms of treatment for back pain, such as surgery, aren’t near as effective as they were once believed to be.

New recommendations state that you should start with conservative forms of care, like chiropractic, massage, and acupuncture, first before using traditional methods for back pain.

Another thing that makes chiropractic unique as a healthcare profession, and is a personal favorite of mine, is that it empowers you, the patient, to take an active role in your health.

One of the central ideas of the chiropractic philosophy is that the body is a self-healing, self-regulating organism and if it is functioning properly it will remain healthy, for the most part.  For instance, if you cut yourself then you don’t have to take a pill or do anything to make it better.  Your body will clot the blood, create a scab, regenerate skin, and heal the wound.

Even if it’s a large cut that requires stitches, your body is doing the healing, the stitches merely help bring the skin together to facilitate it.

In my office, I let my patients know that regular adjustments will help their body move and function properly but that if they want to get and stay healthy then they have to take care of themselves.  That means doing the stretches and exercises that are recommended, improving any nutritional deficiencies that we may have identified.

My goal is to encourage all my patients to value their health and make it a priority, not just come to me for a quick fix or to simply remove a symptom, like pain.

While you may find this perspective happening more in traditional medical offices (MD/DO), chiropractic has been promoting this philosophy for over a hundred years.


I hope this post has helped you get a better understanding of what a chiropractor does.  Do you still have questions?  Feel free to comment or shoot me a message and I’ll do my best to answer it for you.