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Chiropractic medicine

Daniel David Palmer (founder)

Invented in 1895 in Davenport, USA

Chiropractic education

World Federation of Chiropractic

Schools · Accreditation

Template:Alternative medical systems

Chiropractic is a form of alternative medicine which attempts to diagnose and treat patients through manipulation of their musculoskeletal system, especially the spine. It uses manual therapy, including manipulation of the spine, joints, and soft tissues as well as exercises and lifestyle counseling. Traditional chiropractic, based on vitalism, assumes that spine problems interfere with the body's general functions and innate intelligence, a notion that brings ridicule from mainstream health care.

D. D. Palmer founded chiropractic in the 1890s, and his son B. J. Palmer helped to expand it in the early 20th century. Some modern chiropractors now incorporate conventional medical techniques, such as exercise, massage, and ice pack therapy, in addition to chiropractic's traditional vitalistic underpinnings. Chiropractic is well established in the U.S., Canada and Australia. It overlaps with other manual-therapy professions, including massage therapy, osteopathy, and physical therapy. Chiropractic care is most often used for low back pain.

Throughout its history, chiropractic has been controversial, battling with mainstream medicine and sustained by pseudoscientific ideas. Despite the general consensus of public health professionals regarding the benefits of vaccination, there are significant disagreements among chiropractors, which has led to negative impacts on public vaccination and acceptance of chiropractic. The American Medical Association boycotted chiropractic until 1987, but in recent decades, chiropractic has developed a strong political base and sustained demand for services. Medical guidelines have been developed for the profession, and it has seen coverage by most health plans in the United States.

Studies of chiropractic have found it to be a generally ineffective treatment, except for lower back pain. The cost-effectiveness of chiropractic is unknown. Evidence published by practitioners show the therapy is safe, but there is no systematic reporting, and the number of adverse results is not known. There are reports of mild to serious adverse effects, with serious or fatal complications in rare cases.


Chiropractic is a form of alternative medicine which focuses on manipulation of the musculoskeletal system, especially the spine. Its founder, D.D. Palmer, called it "a science of healing without drugs".[1]

Two chiropractic belief system constructs
The testable principle   The untestable metaphor
Chiropractic adjustment Universal Intelligence
Restoration of structural integrity Innate intelligence
Improvement of health status Body physiology
Materialistic:     Vitalistic:
— Operational definitions possible — Origin of holism in chiropractic
— Lends itself to scientific inquiry — Cannot be proven or disproven
Taken from Mootz & Phillips 1997[2]

Chiropractic's origins lie in the folk medicine of bonesetting, and as it evolved it incorporated vitalism and spiritual inspiration.[1] Chiropractors based their work on deductions from the profession's historical doctrine, which made chiropractic easy to distinguish from medicine. The distinction helped provide legal and political defenses against claims of practicing medicine without a license, and allowed chiropractors to establish themselves as an autonomous profession. Traditional chiropractic rejected the inferential reasoning and materialism of the scientific method.[3][2] Modern chiropractic has diverged into two main groups. Practitioners who still adhere to the traditional approach to chiropractic are referred to as "straights", and chiropractors who incorporate scientific research into chiropractic are referred to as "mixers". Around 80% of modern chiropractors are mixers, combining the materialistic reductionism of science with the metaphysics of their predecessors and with the holistic paradigm of wellness.[2] A 2008 commentary proposed that chiropractic actively divorce itself from the straight philosophy as part of a campaign to eliminate untestable dogma and engage in critical thinking and evidence-based research.[4]

Although a wide diversity of ideas exist among chiropractors,[3] they share the belief that the spine and health are related in a fundamental way, and that this relationship is mediated through the nervous system.[5] Chiropractors examine the biomechanics, structure and function of the spine, along with its effects on the musculoskeletal and nervous systems and what they believe to be its role in health and disease.[6] Some chiropactors say spinal manipulation can have an effect of a variety of ailments such as irritable bowel syndrome and asthma.[7]

Chiropractic philosophy includes the following perspectives:[2]

  • Holism assumes that health is affected by everything in an individual's environment; some sources also include a spiritual or existential dimension.[8] In contrast, reductionism in chiropractic reduces causes and cures of health problems to a single factor, vertebral subluxation.[4]
  • Conservatism considers the risks of clinical interventions when balancing them against their benefits. It emphasizes noninvasive treatment to minimize risk, and avoids surgery and medication.[6]
  • Homeostasis emphasizes the body's inherent self-healing abilities. Chiropractic's early notion of innate intelligence can be thought of as a metaphor for homeostasis.[3]
  • Straights tend to use an approach that focuses on the chiropractor's perspective and the treatment model, whereas mixers tend to focus on the patient and the patient's situation.[2]

Straights and mixers

Range of belief perspectives in chiropractic
perspective attribute potential belief endpoints
scope of practice: narrow ("straight") ← → broad ("mixer")
diagnostic approach: intuitive ← → analytical
philosophic orientation: vitalistic ← → materialistic
scientific orientation: descriptive ← → experimental
process orientation: implicit ← → explicit
practice attitude: doctor/model-centered ← → patient/situation-centered
professional integration: separate and distinct ← → integrated into mainstream
Taken from Mootz & Phillips 1997[2]

Straight chiropractors adhere to the philosophical principles set forth by D.D. and B.J. Palmer, and retain metaphysical definitions and vitalistic qualities. Straight chiropractors believe that vertebral subluxation leads to interference with an "innate intelligence" exerted via the human nervous system and is a primary underlying risk factor for many diseases. Straights view the medical diagnosis of patient complaints (which they consider to be the "secondary effects" of subluxations) to be unnecessary for chiropractic treatment. Thus, straight chiropractors are concerned primarily with the detection and correction of vertebral subluxation via adjustment and do not "mix" other types of therapies into their practice style.[9] Their philosophy and explanations are metaphysical in nature and they prefer to use traditional chiropractic lexicon terminology (i.e. perform spinal analysis, detect subluxation, correct with adjustment, etc.). They prefer to remain separate and distinct from mainstream health care. Although considered the minority group, "they have been able to transform their status as purists and heirs of the lineage into influence dramatically out of proportion to their numbers."[10]

Mixer chiropractors "mix" diagnostic and treatment approaches from osteopathic, medical, and chiropractic viewpoints. Unlike straight chiropractors, mixers believe subluxation is one of many causes of disease, and they incorporate mainstream medical diagnostics and employ many treatments including conventional techniques of physical therapy such as exercise, massage, ice packs, and moist heat, along with nutritional supplements, acupuncture, homeopathy, herbal remedies, and biofeedback. Mixers tend to be open to mainstream medicine and are the majority group.[10]

Although mixers are the majority group, many of them retain belief in vertebral subluxation as shown in a 2003 survey of 1100 North American chiropractors, which found that 88% wanted to retain the term "vertebral subluxation complex", and that when asked to estimate the percent of disorders of internal organs (such as the heart, the lungs, or the stomach) that subluxation significantly contributes to, the mean response was 62%.[11] A 2008 survey of 6000 American chiropractors demonstrated that most chiropractors seem to believe that a subluxation-based clinical approach may be of limited utility for addressing visceral disorders, and greatly favored non-subluxation-based clinical approaches for such conditions.[12] The same survey showed that most chiropractors generally believed that the majority of their clinical approach for addressing musculoskeletal/biomechanical disorders such as back pain was based on subluxation.[12]

Vertebral subluxation

Palmer hypothesized that vertebral joint misalignments, which he termed vertebral subluxations, interfered with the body's function and its inborn (innate) ability to heal itself.[13] D.D. Palmer repudiated his earlier theory that vertebral subluxations caused pinched nerves in the intervertebral spaces in favor of subluxations causing altered nerve vibration, either too tense or too slack, affecting the tone (health) of the end organ. D.D. Palmer, using a vitalistic approach, imbued the term subluxation with a metaphysical and philosophical meaning. He qualified this by noting that knowledge of innate intelligence was not essential to the competent practice of chiropractic.[14] This concept was later expanded upon by his son, B.J. Palmer, and was instrumental in providing the legal basis of differentiating chiropractic medicine from conventional medicine. In 1910, D.D. Palmer theorized that the nervous system controlled health:

"Physiologists divide nerve-fibers, which form the nerves, into two classes, afferent and efferent. Impressions are made on the peripheral afferent fiber-endings; these create sensations that are transmitted to the center of the nervous system. Efferent nerve-fibers carry impulses out from the center to their endings. Most of these go to muscles and are therefore called motor impulses; some are secretory and enter glands; a portion are inhibitory, their function being to restrain secretion. Thus, nerves carry impulses outward and sensations inward. The activity of these nerves, or rather their fibers, may become excited or allayed by impingement, the result being a modification of functionality—too much or not enough action—which is disease."[15]
Chiropractors use x-ray radiography to examine the bone structure of a patient.

Vertebral subluxation, a core concept of traditional chiropractic, remains unsubstantiated and largely untested, and a debate about whether to keep it in the chiropractic paradigm has been ongoing for decades.[16] In general, critics of traditional subluxation-based chiropractic (including chiropractors) are skeptical of its clinical value, dogmatic beliefs and metaphysical approach. While straight chiropractic still retains the traditional vitalistic construct espoused by the founders, evidence-based chiropractic suggests that a mechanistic view will allow chiropractic care to become integrated into the wider health care community.[16] This is still a continuing source of debate within the chiropractic profession as well, with some schools of chiropractic still teaching the traditional/straight subluxation-based chiropractic, while others have moved towards an evidence-based chiropractic that rejects metaphysical foundings and limits itself to primarily neuromusculoskeletal conditions.[17][18]

In 2005, the chiropractic subluxation was defined by the World Health Organization as "a lesion or dysfunction in a joint or motion segment in which alignment, movement integrity and/or physiological function are altered, although contact between joint surfaces remains intact. It is essentially a functional entity, which may influence biomechanical and neural integrity." This differs from the medical definition of subluxation as a significant structural displacement, which can be seen with static imaging techniques such as X-rays.[19] The 2008 book Trick or Treatment states "X-rays can reveal neither the subluxations nor the innate intelligence associated with chiropractic philosophy, because they do not exist."[20] Attorney David Chapman-Smith, Secretary-General of the World Federation of Chiropractic, has stated that "Medical critics have asked how there can be a subluxation if it cannot be seen on x-ray. The answer is that the chiropractic subluxation is essentially a functional entity, not structural, and is therefore no more visible on static x-ray than a limp or headache or any other functional problem."[21] The General Chiropractic Council, the statutory regulatory body for chiropractors in the United Kingdom, states that the chiropractic vertebral subluxation complex "is not supported by any clinical research evidence that would allow claims to be made that it is the cause of disease."[22]

Scope of practice

Template:Image Chiropractors emphasize the conservative management of the neuromusculoskeletal system without the use of medicines or surgery,[19] with special emphasis on the spine.[23] In 2011 research by Yvonne Villanueva-Russell found a range of opinions among chiropractors: some believed that treatment should be confined to the spine, or back and neck pain; others vehemently disagreed. For example, while one 2009 survey of American chiropractors had found that 73% classified themselves as "back pain/musculoskeletal specialists", the label "back and neck pain specialists" was regarded by 47% of them as a least desirable description in a 2005 international survey.[24] Chiropractic combines aspects from mainstream and alternative medicine, and there is no agreement about how to define the profession: although chiropractors have many attributes of primary care providers, chiropractic has more of the attributes of a medical specialty like dentistry or podiatry.[25] It has been proposed that chiropractors specialize in nonsurgical spine care, instead of attempting to also treat other problems,[25][4] but the more expansive view of chiropractic is still widespread.[26] Mainstream health care and governmental organizations such as the World Health Organization consider chiropractic to be complementary and alternative medicine (CAM);[27] and a 2008 study reported that 31% of surveyed chiropractors categorized chiropractic as CAM, 27% as integrated medicine, and 12% as mainstream medicine.[28]

Chiropractic overlaps with several other forms of manual therapy, including massage therapy, osteopathy, physical therapy, and sports medicine.[29][30] Chiropractic is autonomous from and competitive with mainstream medicine,[31] and osteopathy outside the US remains primarily a manual medical system;[32] physical therapists work alongside and cooperate with mainstream medicine, and osteopathic medicine in the U.S. has merged with the medical profession.[31] Practitioners may distinguish these competing approaches through claims that, compared to other therapists, chiropractors heavily emphasize spinal manipulation, tend to use firmer manipulative techniques, and promote maintenance care; that osteopaths use a wider variety of treatment procedures; and that physical therapists emphasize machinery and exercise.[29]

Chiropractic diagnosis may involve a range of methods including skeletal imaging, observational and tactile assessments, and orthopedic and neurological evaluation.[19] A chiropractor may also refer a patient to an appropriate specialist, or co-manage with another health care provider.[25] Common patient management involves spinal manipulation (SM) and other manual therapies to the joints and soft tissues, rehabilitative exercises, health promotion, electrical modalities, complementary procedures, and lifestyle advice.[33]

Chiropractors are not normally licensed to write medical prescriptions or perform major surgery in the United States,[34] (although New Mexico has become the first US state to allow "advanced practice" trained chiropractors to prescribe certain medications.[35][36]). In the US, their scope of practice varies by state, based on inconsistent views of chiropractic care: some states, such as Iowa, broadly allow treatment of "human ailments"; some, such as Delaware, use vague concepts such as "transition of nerve energy" to define scope of practice; others, such as New Jersey, specify a severely narrowed scope.[37] US states also differ over whether chiropractors may conduct laboratory tests or diagnostic procedures, dispense dietary supplements, or use other therapies such as homeopathy and acupuncture; in Oregon they can become certified to perform minor surgery and to deliver children via natural childbirth.[34] A 2003 survey of North American chiropractors found that a slight majority favored allowing them to write prescriptions for over-the-counter drugs.[11] A 2010 survey found 72% of Switzerland chiropractors judged the current allowance in Switzerland to prescribing nonprescription medication as an advantage for chiropractic treatment.[38]

A related field, veterinary chiropractic, applies manual therapies to animals and is recognized in a few US states,[39] but is not recognized by the American Chiropractic Association as being chiropractic.[40]

No single profession "owns" spinal manipulation and there is little consensus as to which profession should administer SM, raising concerns by chiropractors that other medical physicians could "steal" SM procedures from chiropractors. A focus on evidence-based SM research has also raised concerns that the resulting practice guidelines could limit the scope of chiropractic practice to treating backs and necks.[41] Two U.S. states (Washington and Arkansas) prohibit physical therapists from performing SM,[42] some states allow them to do it only if they have completed advanced training in SM, and some states allow only chiropractors to perform SM, or only chiropractors and physicians. Bills to further prohibit non-chiropractors from performing SM are regularly introduced into state legislatures and are opposed by physical therapist organizations.[43]

Treatment techniques

A chiropractor performs an adjustment on a patient.

Spinal manipulation, which chiropractors call "spinal adjustment" or "chiropractic adjustment", is the most common treatment used in chiropractic care.[44] Spinal manipulation is a passive manual maneuver during which a three-joint complex is taken past the normal range of movement, but not so far as to dislocate or damage the joint.[45] Its defining factor is a dynamic thrust, which is a sudden force that causes an audible release and attempts to increase a joint's range of motion.[45] High-velocity, low-amplitude spinal manipulation (HVLA-SM) thrusts have physiological effects that signal neural discharge from paraspinal muscle tissues, depending on duration and amplitude of the thrust are factors of the degree in paraspinal muscle spindles activation. Clinical skill in employing HVLA-SM thrusts depends on the ability of the practitioner to handle the duration and magnitude of the load.[46] More generally, spinal manipulative therapy (SMT) describes techniques where the hands are used to manipulate, massage, mobilize, adjust, stimulate, apply traction to, or otherwise influence the spine and related tissues.[45]

There are several schools of chiropractic adjustive techniques, although most chiropractors mix techniques from several schools. The following adjustive procedures were received by more than 10% of patients of licensed U.S. chiropractors in a 2003 survey:[44] Diversified technique (full-spine manipulation, employing various techniques), extremity adjusting, Activator technique (which uses a spring-loaded tool to deliver precise adjustments to the spine), Thompson Technique (which relies on a drop table and detailed procedural protocols), Gonstead (which emphasizes evaluating the spine along with specific adjustment that avoids rotational vectors), Cox/flexion-distraction (a gentle, low-force adjusting procedure which mixes chiropractic with osteopathic principles and utilizes specialized adjusting tables with movable parts), adjustive instrument, Sacro-Occipital Technique (which models the spine as a torsion bar), Nimmo Receptor-Tonus Technique, Applied Kinesiology (which emphasises "muscle testing" as a diagnostic tool), and cranial.[47] Medicine-assisted manipulation, such as manipulation under anesthesia, involves sedation or local anesthetic and is done by a team that includes an anesthesiologist; a 2008 systematic review did not find enough evidence to make recommendations about its use for chronic low back pain.[48]

Lumbar, cervical and thoracic chiropractic spinal manipulation.

Many other procedures are used by chiropractors for treating the spine, other joints and tissues, and general health issues. The following procedures were received by more than one-third of patients of licensed U.S. chiropractors in a 2003 survey: Diversified technique (full-spine manipulation; mentioned in previous paragraph), physical fitness/exercise promotion, corrective or therapeutic exercise, ergonomic/postural advice, self-care strategies, activities of daily living, changing risky/unhealthy behaviors, nutritional/dietary recommendations, relaxation/stress reduction recommendations, ice pack/cryotherapy, extremity adjusting (also mentioned in previous paragraph), trigger point therapy, and disease prevention/early screening advice.[44]

A 2010 study describing Belgium chiropractors and their patients found chiropractors in Belgium mostly focus on neuromusculoskeletal complaints in adult patients, with emphasis on the spine. The diversified technique is the most often applied technique at 93%, followed by the Activator mechanical-assisted technique at 41%.[49] A 2009 study assessing chiropractic students giving or receiving spinal manipulations while attending a U.S. chiropractic college found Diversified, Gonstead, and upper cervical manipulations are frequently used methods.[50]

Practice guidelines

Reviews of research studies within the chiropractic community have been used to generate practice guidelines outlining standards that specify which chiropractic treatments are "legitimate" (i.e., supported by evidence) and conceivably reimbursable under managed care health payment systems.[41] Evidence-based guidelines are supported by one end of an ideological continuum among chiropractors; the other end employs antiscientific reasoning and makes unsubstantiated claims.[23][16][51][52][53] Chiropractic remains at a crossroads, and that in order to progress it would need to embrace science; the promotion by some for it to be a cure-all was both "misguided and irrational".[54] A 2007 survey of Alberta chiropractors found that they do not consistently apply research in practice, which may have resulted from a lack of research education and skills.[55] A 2006 study suggested continuing education enhances the scientific knowledge of the practitioner.[56]

Education, licensing, and regulation

Requirements vary between countries. In the U.S. chiropractors obtain a first professional degree in the field of chiropractic.[57] Chiropractors often argue that this education is as good as or better than medical physicians', but most chiropractic training is confined to classrooms with much time spent learning theory, adjustment, and marketing.[37] Chiropractic curricula in the U.S. have been criticized for failing to meet generally accepted standards of evidence-based medicine.[58] The curriculum content of North American chiropractic and medical colleges with regard to basic and clinical sciences has been more similar than not, both in the kinds of subjects offered and in the time assigned to each subject.[59] Accredited chiropractic programs in the U.S. require that applicants have 90 semester hours of undergraduate education with a grade point average of at least 3.0 on a 4.0 scale. Many programs require at least three years of undergraduate education, and more are requiring a bachelor's degree.[60] Canada requires a minimum three years of undergraduate education for applicants, and at least 4200 instructional hours (or the equivalent) of full‐time chiropractic education for matriculation through an accredited chiropractic program.[61] Graduates of the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College (CMCC) are formally recognized to have at least 7–8 years of university level education.[62][63] The World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines suggest three major full-time educational paths culminating in either a DC, DCM, BSc, or MSc degree. Besides the full-time paths, they also suggest a conversion program for people with other health care education and limited training programs for regions where no legislation governs chiropractic.[19]

Upon graduation, there may be a requirement to pass national, state, or provincial board examinations before being licensed to practice in a particular jurisdiction.[64][65] Depending on the location, continuing education may be required to renew these licenses.[66][67] Specialty training is available through part-time postgraduate education programs such as chiropractic orthopedics and sports chiropractic, and through full-time residency programs such as radiology or orthopedics.[68]

In the U.S., chiropractic schools are accredited through the Council on Chiropractic Education (CCE) while the General Chiropractic Council (GCC) is the statutory governmental body responsible for the regulation of chiropractic in the UK.[69][70] The U.S. CCE requires a mixing curriculum, which means a straight-educated chiropractor may not be eligible for licensing in states requiring CCE accreditation.[37] CCEs in the U.S., Canada, Australia and Europe have joined to form CCE-International (CCE-I) as a model of accreditation standards with the goal of having credentials portable internationally.[71] Today, there are 18 accredited Doctor of Chiropractic programs in the U.S.,[72] 2 in Canada,[73] 6 in Australasia,[74] and 5 in Europe.[75] All but one of the chiropractic colleges in the U.S. are privately funded, but in several other countries they are in government-sponsored universities and colleges.[76] Of the two chiropractic colleges in Canada, one is publicly funded (UQTR) and one is privately funded (CMCC). In 2005, CMCC was granted the privilege of offering a professional health care degree under the Post-secondary Education Choice and Excellence Act, which sets the program within the hierarchy of education in Canada as comparable to that of other primary contact health care professions such as medicine, dentistry and optometry.[62][63]

Regulatory colleges and chiropractic boards in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and Australia are responsible for protecting the public, standards of practice, disciplinary issues, quality assurance and maintenance of competency.[77][78] There are an estimated 49,000 chiropractors in the U.S. (2008),[79] 6,500 in Canada (2010),[80] 2,500 in Australia (2000),[81] and 1,500 in the UK (2000).[82]

A 2008 commentary proposed that the chiropractic profession actively regulate itself to combat abuse, fraud, and quackery, which are more prevalent in chiropractic than in other health care professions, violating the social contract between patients and physicians.[4]

The fourth year of chiropractic education persistently showed the highest stress levels. Every student, irrespective of year, experienced different ranges of stress when studying.[83] The chiropractic leaders and colleges have had internal struggles. Rather than cooperation, there has been infighting between different factions. A number of actions were posturing due to the confidential nature of the chiropractic colleges in an attempt to enroll students.[84]



The chiropractic oath is a modern variation of the classical Hippocratic Oath historically taken by physicians and other healthcare professionals swearing to practice their professions ethically.[85] The American Chiropractic Association (ACA) has an ethical code "based upon the acknowledgement that the social contract dictates the profession’s responsibilities to the patient, the public, and the profession; and upholds the fundamental principle that the paramount purpose of the chiropractic doctor's professional services shall be to benefit the patient."[86] The International Chiropractor's Association (ICA) also has a set of professional canons.[87]

A study of California disciplinary statistics during 1997–2000 reported 4.5 disciplinary actions per 1000 chiropractors per year, compared to 2.27 for medical doctors, and the incident rate for fraud was nine times greater among chiropractors (1.99 per 1000 chiropractors per year) than among medical doctors (0.20).[88] According to a 2006 Gallup poll of U.S. adults, when asked how they would "rate the honesty and ethical standards of people in these different fields", chiropractic compared unfavorably with mainstream medicine. When chiropractic was rated, it "rated dead last amongst healthcare professions". While 84% of respondents considered nurses' ethics "very high" or "high," only 36% felt that way about chiropractors. Other healthcare professions ranged from 38% for psychiatrists, to 62% for dentists, 69% for medical doctors, 71% for veterinarians, and 73% for druggists or pharmacists.[4][89][90][91] Similar results were found in the 2003 Gallup Poll.[92]

In 2001, the largest chiropractic associations in the U.S. and Canada were reported to have distributed patient brochures which contained unsubstantiated claims.[93] Chiropractors, especially in America, have a reputation for unnecessarily treating patients.[20] Sustained chiropractic care is promoted as a preventative tool, but unnecessary manipulation could possibly present a risk to patients. Some chiropractors are concerned by the routine unjustified claims chiropractors have made.[1] A 2010 analysis of chiropractic websites found the majority of chiropractors and their associations made claims of effectiveness not supported by scientific evidence, while 28% of chiropractor websites advocate lower back pain care, which has some sound evidence.[94]

Some New Zealand chiropractors appeared to have used the title 'doctor' in a New Zealand yellow pages telephone directory in a way that implied they are registered medical practitioners, when no evidence was presented it was true.[95] In New Zealand, chiropractors are allowed to use the title 'doctor' when it is qualified to show that the title refers to their chiropractic role. A representative from the NZ Chiropractic Board states that entries in the yellow pages under the heading of 'Chiropractors' fulfills this obligation when suitably qualified.[96] If a chiropractor is not a registered medical practitioner, then the misuse of the title 'doctor' while working in healthcare will not comply with the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003.[95]

UK chiropractic organizations and their members make numerous claims which are not supported by scientific evidence.[97] Many chiropractors adhere to ideas which are against science and most seemingly violate important principles of ethical behaviour on a regular basis.[97] The advice chiropractors gave to their patients is often misleading and dangerous.[97] In 2009, a backlash to the libel suit filed by the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) against Simon Singh, has inspired the filing of formal complaints of false advertising against more than 500 individual chiropractors within one 24 hour period,[98][99] prompting the McTimoney Chiropractic Association to write to its members advising them to remove leaflets that make claims about whiplash and colic from their practice, to be wary of new patients and telephone inquiries, and telling their members: "If you have a website, take it down NOW." and "Finally, we strongly suggest you do NOT discuss this with others, especially patients."[98] An editorial in Nature has suggested that the BCA may be trying to suppress debate and that this use of British libel law is a burden on the right to freedom of expression, which is protected by the European Convention on Human Rights.[100] The libel case ended with the BCA withdrawing its suit in 2010.[101][102]

International reception

Chiropractic is established in the U.S., Canada, and Australia, and is present to a lesser extent in many other countries.[103] It is viewed as a marginal complementary and alternative medicine health care profession.[24]


In Australia, most private health insurance funds cover chiropractic care, and the federal government funds chiropractic care when the patient is referred by a medical practitioner.[104]

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom chiropractic is available on the National Health Service in some areas, such as Cornwall where the treatment is only available for neck or back pain.[105]

A 2010 questionnaire presented to UK chiropractors indicated only 45% of chiropractors disclosed with patients the serious risk associated with manipulation of the cervical spine as a direct consequence of the fear that the patient would refuse treatment despite knowing the moral responsibility.[106]

United States and Canada

The percentage of the population that utilizes chiropractic care at any given time generally falls into a range from 6% to 12% in the U.S. and Canada,[107] with a global high of 20% in Alberta in 2006.[108] In 2008, chiropractors were reported to be the most common CAM providers for children and adolescents, consuming up to 14% of all visits to chiropractors.[109] In 2002-3, the majority of those who sought chiropractic did so for relief from back and neck pain and other neuromusculoskeletal complaints;[110] most do so specifically for low back pain.[110][107] The majority of U.S. chiropractors partake in some form of managed care.[111] Although the majority of U.S. chiropractors view themselves as specialists in neuroleptic malignant syndrome conditions, many also consider chiropractic as a type of primary care.[111] In the majority of cases, the care that chiropractors and physicians provide divides the market, however for some, their care is complementary.[111]

In the U.S., chiropractors perform over 90% of all manipulative treatments.[112] Satisfaction rates are typically higher for chiropractic care compared to medical care, with a 1998 U.S. survey reporting 83% of respondents satisfied or very satisfied with their care; quality of communication seems to be a consistent predictor of patient satisfaction with chiropractors.[113]

Utilization of chiropractic care is sensitive to the costs incurred by the co-payment by the patient.[27] The use of chiropractic declined from 9.9% of U.S. adults in 1997 to 7.4% in 2002; this was the largest relative decrease among CAM professions, which overall had a stable use rate.[114] As of 2007 7% of the U.S. population is being reached by chiropractic.[115] Employment of U.S. chiropractors is expected to increase 14% between 2006 and 2016, faster than the average for all occupations.[79]

In the U.S., most states require insurers to cover chiropractic care, and most HMOs cover these services.[109] In Canada, there is lack of coverage under the universal public health insurance system.[116]


Chiropractic was founded in 1895 by Daniel David (D.D.) Palmer in Davenport, Iowa. Palmer, a magnetic healer, hypothesized that manual manipulation of the spine could cure disease.[117] The first chiropractic patient of D.D. Palmer was Harvey Lillard, a worker in the building where Palmer's office was located. He claimed that he had severely reduced hearing for 17 years, which started soon following a "pop" in his spine. A few days following his adjustment, Lillard claimed his hearing was almost completely restored.[9] Chiropractic competed with its predecessor osteopathy, another medical system based on magnetic healing and bonesetting; both systems were founded by charismatic midwesterners in opposition to the conventional medicine of the day, and both postulated that manipulation improved health.[117] Although initially keeping chiropractic a family secret, in 1898 Palmer began teaching it to a few students at his new Palmer School of Chiropractic. One student, his son Bartlett Joshua (B.J.) Palmer, became committed to promoting chiropractic, took over the Palmer School in 1906, and rapidly expanded its enrollment.[118]

Early chiropractors believed that all disease was caused by interruptions in the flow of innate intelligence, a vital nervous energy or life force that represented God's presence in man; chiropractic leaders often invoked religious imagery and moral traditions. D.D. and B.J. both seriously considered declaring chiropractic a religion, which might have provided legal protection under the U.S. constitution, but decided against it partly to avoid confusion with Christian Science.[118][119] Early chiropractors also tapped into the Populist movement, emphasizing craft, hard work, competition, and advertisement, aligning themselves with the common man against intellectuals and trusts, among which they included the American Medical Association (AMA).[118]

Chiropractic has seen considerable controversy and criticism.[120][76] Although D.D. and B.J. were "straight" and disdained the use of instruments, some early chiropractors, whom B.J. scornfully called "mixers", advocated the use of instruments. In 1910 B.J. changed course and endorsed X-rays as necessary for diagnosis; this resulted in a significant exodus from the Palmer School of the more conservative faculty and students. The mixer camp grew until by 1924 B.J. estimated that only 3,000 of the U.S.'s 25,000 chiropractors remained straight. That year, B.J.'s invention and promotion of the neurocalometer, a temperature-sensing device, was highly controversial among B.J.'s fellow straights. By the 1930s chiropractic was the largest alternative healing profession in the U.S.[118]

Chiropractors faced heavy opposition from organized medicine. Thousands of chiropractors were prosecuted for practicing medicine without a license, and D.D. and many other chiropractors were jailed. To defend against medical statutes B.J. argued that chiropractic was separate and distinct from medicine, asserting that chiropractors "analyzed" rather than "diagnosed", and "adjusted" subluxations rather than "treated" disease. B.J. cofounded the Universal Chiropractors' Association (UCA) to provide legal services to arrested chiropractors. Although the UCA won their first test case in Wisconsin in 1907, prosecutions instigated by state medical boards became increasingly common and in many cases were successful. In response, chiropractors conducted political campaigns to secure separate licensing statutes, eventually succeeding in all fifty states, from Kansas in 1913 through Louisiana in 1974.[9] The longstanding feud between chiropractors and medical doctors continued for decades. The AMA labeled chiropractic an "unscientific cult" in 1966,[121] and until 1980 advised its members that it was unethical for medical doctors to associate with "unscientific practitioners".[122] This culminated in a landmark 1987 decision, Wilk v. AMA, in which the court found that the AMA had engaged in unreasonable restraint of trade and conspiracy, and which ended the AMA's de facto boycott of chiropractic.[111]

Serious research to test chiropractic theories did not begin until the 1970s, and is continuing to be hampered by what are characterized as antiscientific and pseudoscientific ideas that sustained the profession in its long battle with organized medicine. By the mid 1990s there was a growing scholarly interest in chiropractic, which helped efforts to improve service quality and establish clinical guidelines that recommended manual therapies for acute low back pain.[9] In recent decades chiropractic gained legitimacy and greater acceptance by medical physicians and health plans, and enjoyed a strong political base and sustained demand for services. However, its future seemed uncertain: as the number of practitioners grew, evidence-based medicine insisted on treatments with demonstrated value, managed care restricted payment, and competition grew from massage therapists and other health professions. The profession responded by marketing natural products and devices more aggressively, and by reaching deeper into alternative medicine and primary care.[111]



Taken overall, spinal manipulation is not effective for the treatment of any condition.[123] A 2008 critical review found that with the possible exception of back pain, chiropractic manipulation has not been shown to be effective for any medical condition.[1] Health claims made by chiropractors regarding use of manipulation for pediatric health conditions are supported by only low levels of scientific evidence[109][124] that does not demonstrate clinically relevant benefits.[125] Most research has focused on spinal manipulation in general,[126] rather than solely on chiropractic manipulation.[41]

There is a wide range of ways to measure treatment outcomes.[127] Chiropractic care, like all medical treatment, benefits from the placebo response.[128] It is difficult to construct a trustworthy placebo for clinical trials of spinal manipulative therapy (SMT), as experts often disagree about whether a proposed placebo actually has no effect.[129] The efficacy of maintenance care in chiropractic is unknown.[130]

Available evidence covers the following conditions:

  • Low back pain. A 2013 Cochrane review found that spinal manipulation therapy was no more effective than inert interventions, sham SMT or as an adjunct therapy for acute low back pain.[131][132] The same review found that SMT appears to be no better than other recommended therapies.[131] A 2012 overview of systematic reviews found that collectively, spinal manipulation failed to show it is an effective intervention for pain.[133] A 2011 Cochrane review found strong evidence that suggests there is no clinically meaningful difference between spinal manipulation and other treatments for reducing pain and improving function for chronic low back pain.[134] A 2010 Cochrane review found no current evidence to support or refute a clinically significant difference between the effects of combined chiropractic interventions and other interventions for chronic or mixed duration low back pain.[135] A 2010 systematic review found that most studies suggest spinal manipulation achieves equivalent or superior improvement in pain and function when compared with other commonly used interventions for short, intermediate, and long-term follow-up.[136] A 2008 review found strong evidence that SM is similar in effect to medical care with exercise.[137] A 2008 literature synthesis found good evidence supporting SM for low back pain regardless of duration.[138] Methods for formulating treatment guidelines for low back pain differ significantly between countries, casting some doubt on their reliability.[139]
  • Radiculopathy. A 2013 systematic review and meta-analysis found a statistically significant improvement in overall recovery from sciatica following spinal manipulation, when compared to usual care, and suggested that spine manipulation may be considered.[140] There is moderate quality evidence to support the use of spinal manipulation for the treatment of acute lumbar radiculopathy[141] and acute lumbar disc herniation with associated radiculopathy.[142] The evidence for chronic lumbar spine-related extremity symptoms and cervical spine-related extremity symptoms of any duration is low or very low and no evidence exists for the treatment of thoracic radiculopathy.[141]
  • Whiplash and other neck pain. There is no consensus on the effectiveness of manual therapies for neck pain.[143] Systematic reviews have concluded that thoracic spine manipulation may provide short-term improvement in patients with acute or subacute mechanical neck pain; although the body of literature is still weak.[144][145] A 2010 Cochrane review found low evidence that manipulation was more effective than a control for neck pain, and moderate evidence that cervical manipulation and mobilisation produced similar effects on pain, function and patient satisfaction.[146] A 2010 systematic review found low level evidence that suggests chiropractic care improves cervical range of motion and pain in the management of whiplash.[147] A 2009 systematic review of controlled clinical trials found no evidence that chiropractic spinal manipulation is effective for whiplash injury.[148] A 2008 review found evidence that suggests that manual therapy and exercise are more effective than alternative strategies for patients with neck pain.[149] A 2007 review found that spinal manipulation and mobilization are effective for neck pain.[143] A 2005 review found consistent evidence supporting spinal mobilization for acute whiplash, and limited evidence supporting spinal manipulation for whiplash.[150]
  • Headache. Of two systematic reviews published in 2011, one found evidence that spinal manipulation might be as effective as propranolol or topiramate in the prevention of migraine headaches,[151] but the other concluded that evidence does not support the use of spinal manipulation for the treatment of migraine headaches.[152] A 2004 Cochrane review found evidence that suggests spinal manipulation may be effective for migraine, tension headache and cervicogenic headache.[153] A 2006 review found inconclusive evidence supporting manual therapies for tension headache.[154] A 2005 review found that spinal manipulation showed a trend toward benefit in the treatment of tension headache, but the evidence was weak.[155]
  • Extremity conditions. A 2011 systematic review and meta-analysis concluded that the addition of manual mobilizations to an exercise program for the treatment of knee osteoarthritis resulted in better pain relief then a supervised exercise program alone and suggested that manual therapists consider adding manual mobilisation to optimise supervised active exercise programs.[156] There is silver level evidence that manual therapy is more effective than exercise for the treatment of hip osteoarthritis, however this evidence could be considered to be inconclusive.[157] A 2008 systematic review found that the addition of cervical spine mobilization to a treatment regimen for lateral epicondylosis (tennis elbow) resulted in significantly better pain relief and functional improvements in both the short and long-term.[158] There is a small amount of research into the efficacy of chiropractic treatment for upper limbs,[159] limited to low level evidence supporting chiropractic management of shoulder pain[160] and limited or fair evidence supporting chiropractic management of leg conditions.[161]


Chiropractic care in general is safe when employed skillfully and appropriately. Manipulation is regarded as relatively safe, but as with all therapeutic interventions, complications can arise, and it has known adverse effects, risks and contraindications. Absolute contraindications to spinal manipulative therapy are conditions that should not be manipulated; these contraindications include rheumatoid arthritis and conditions known to result in unstable joints.[19] Relative contraindications are conditions where increased risk is acceptable in some situations and where low-force and soft-tissue techniques are treatments of choice; these contraindications include osteoporosis.[19] Although most contraindications apply only to manipulation of the affected region, some neurological signs indicate referral to emergency medical services; these include sudden and severe headache or neck pain unlike that previously experienced.[177]

Spinal manipulation is associated with frequent, mild and temporary adverse effects,[178][177] including new or worsening pain or stiffness in the affected region.[179] They have been estimated to occur in 33% to 61% of patients, and frequently occur within an hour of treatment and disappear within 24 to 48 hours;[180] adverse reactions appear to be more common following manipulation than mobilization.[181] Chiropractors are more commonly associated with serious manipulation related adverse effects than other professionals.[182] Rarely,[19] spinal manipulation, particularly on the upper spine, can also result in complications that can lead to permanent disability or death; these can occur in adults[178] and children.[183] Estimates vary widely for the incidence of these complications,[180] and the actual incidence is unknown, due to high levels of underreporting and to the difficulty of linking manipulation to adverse effects such as stroke, which is a particular concern.[178] Adverse effects are poorly reported in recent studies investigating chiropractic manipulations.[184] Reports of serious adverse events have occurred, resulting from spinal manipulation therapy of the lumbopelvic region.[185] Estimates for serious adverse events vary from 5 strokes per 100,000 manipulations to 1.46 serious adverse events per 10 million manipulations and 2.68 deaths per 10 million manipulations, though it was determined that there was inadequate data to be conclusive.[180] Several case reports show temporal associations between interventions and potentially serious complications.[149] The published medical literature contains reports of 26 deaths since 1934 following chiropractic manipulations and many more seem to remain unpublished.[182] Vertebrobasilar artery stroke is statistically associated with chiropractic services in persons under 45 years of age,[186] but it is similarly associated with general practitioner services, suggesting that these associations are likely explained by preexisting conditions.[149][187] Weak to moderately strong evidence supports causation (as opposed to statistical association) between cervical manipulative therapy and vertebrobasilar artery stroke.[188] A 2014 systematic review determined the incidence of internal carotid artery dissection following cervical spine manipulation is unknown.[189] A 2012 systematic review determined that there is insufficient evidence to support a strong association or no association between cervical manipulation and stroke.[190] Many chiropractors state that, the association between chiropractic therapy and arterial dissection is not proven.[182] However, in 2010 Edzard Ernst stated that the causality between chiropratic neck manipulation beyond the normal range of motion and vascular accidents is probable.[182] or definite.[191]

Chiropractors, like other primary care providers, sometimes employ diagnostic imaging techniques such as X-rays and CT scans that rely on ionizing radiation.[192] Although there is no clear evidence for the practice, some chiropractors may still X-ray a patient several times a year.[20] Practice guidelines aim to reduce unnecessary radiation exposure,[192] which increases cancer risk in proportion to the amount of radiation received.[193] Research suggests that radiology instruction given at chiropractic schools worldwide seem to be evidence-based.[194] Although, there seems to be a disparity between some schools and available evidence regarding the aspect of radiography for patients with acute low back pain without an indication of a serious disease, which may contribute to chiropractic overuse of radiography for low back pain.[194]


A 2012 systematic review concluded that no accurate assessment of risk-benefit exists for cervical manipulation.[190] A 2012 summary stated that, "The best evidence suggests that SMT, whether it be for neck or low back pain, is a safe and effective therapy. At a population level, the benefits still outweigh the risks."[195] A 2010 systematic review stated that there is no good evidence to assume that neck manipulation is an effective treatment for any medical condition and suggested a precautionary principle in healthcare for chiropractic intervention even if a causality with vertebral artery dissection after neck manipulation were merely a remote possibility.[182] The same review concluded that the risk of death from manipulations to the neck outweighs the benefits.[182] Chiropractors have criticized this conclusion, claiming that the author did not evaluate the potential benefits of spinal manipulation.[196] Edzard Ernst stated "This detail was not the subject of my review. I do, however, refer to such evaluations and should add that a report recently commissioned by the General Chiropractic Council did not support many of the outlandish claims made by many chiropractors across the world."[196]

A 2009 review evaluating maintenance chiropractic care found that spinal manipulation is routinely associated with considerable harm and no compelling evidence exists to indicate that it adequately prevents symptoms or diseases, thus the risk-benefit is not evidently favorable.[197] A 2008 summary found that the best evidence suggests that chiropractic care is a useful therapy for subjects with neck or low-back pain for which the risks of serious adverse events should be considered negligible.[198] A 2007 systematic review found that with uncertain efficacy and definite risks, the risk-benefit balance of spinal manipulation can't be positive.[178] A 2006 systematic review of systematic reviews found the risk-benefit balance does not favor spinal manipulation over other treatments like physical therapy.[199]


A 2012 systematic review suggested that the use of spine manipulation in clinical practice is a cost-effective treatment when used alone or in combination with other treatment approaches.[200] A 2011 systematic review found evidence supporting the cost-effectiveness of using spinal manipulation for the treatment of sub-acute or chronic low back pain; the results for acute low back pain were inconsistent.[201] A 2006 qualitative review found that the research literature suggests that chiropractic obtains at least comparable outcomes to alternatives with potential cost savings.[202]

A 2006 systematic cost-effectiveness review found that the reported cost-effectiveness of chiropractic manipulation in the United Kingdom compared favorably with other treatments for back pain, but that reports were based on data from clinical trials without sham controls and that the specific cost-effectiveness of the treatment (as opposed to non-specific effects) remains uncertain.[203] A 2005 American systematic review of economic evaluations of conservative treatments for low back pain found that significant quality problems in available studies meant that definite conclusions could not be drawn about the most cost-effective intervention.[204] The cost-effectiveness of maintenance chiropractic care is unknown.[130]

Analysis of a clinical and cost utilization data from the years 2003 to 2005 by an integrative medicine independent physician association (IPA) which looked the chiropractic services utilization found that the clinical and cost utilization of chiropractic services based on 70,274 member-months over a 7-year period decreased patient costs associate with the following use of services by 60.2% for in-hospital admissions, 59.0% for hospital days, 62.0% for outpatient surgeries and procedures, and 85% forpharmaceutical costs when compared with conventional medicine (visit to a medical doctor primary care provider) IPA performance for the same health maintenance organization product in the same geography and time frame.[205]

Gleberzon et al. identify "deliberate fraud" as a notably harmful element of the chiropractic profession, finding that dubious practice techniques can translate into "outlandish billing and utilization rates". Those at the "fringe of ethical behavior" present the profession with a challenge, they believe, and must be weeded out.[206]

Public health

Template:Further2 Some chiropractors oppose vaccination and water fluoridation, which are common public health practices.[4] Within the chiropractic community there are significant disagreements about vaccination,[207][81] one of the most cost-effective public health interventions available.[208] Most chiropractic writings on vaccination focus on its negative aspects,[207] claiming that it is hazardous, ineffective, and unnecessary. Some chiropractors have embraced vaccination, but a significant portion of the profession rejects it, as original chiropractic philosophy traces diseases to causes in the spine and states that vaccines interfere with healing.[81] The extent to which anti-vaccination views perpetuate the current chiropractic profession is uncertain.[207] The American Chiropractic Association and the International Chiropractors Association support individual exemptions to compulsory vaccination laws, and a 1995 survey of U.S. chiropractors found that about a third believed there was no scientific proof that immunization prevents disease.[81] The Canadian Chiropractic Association supports vaccination;[207] a survey in Alberta in 2002 found that 25% of chiropractors advised patients for, and 27% against, vaccinating themselves or their children.[209]

Early opposition to water fluoridation included chiropractors, some of whom continue to oppose it as being incompatible with chiropractic philosophy and an infringement of personal freedom. Other chiropractors have actively promoted fluoridation, and several chiropractic organizations have endorsed scientific principles of public health.[210] In addition to traditional chiropractic opposition to water fluoridation and vaccination, chiropractors' attempts to establish a positive reputation for their public health role are also compromised by their reputation for recommending repetitive lifelong chiropractic treatment.[4]


Throughout its history chiropractic has been the subject of internal and external controversy and criticism.[10][211] According to Daniel D. Palmer, the founder of chiropractic, subluxation is the sole cause of disease and manipulation is the cure for all diseases of the human race.[1][212] A critical evaluation stated "Chiropractic is rooted in mystical concepts. This led to an internal conflict within the chiropractic profession, which continues today."[1] Chiropractors, including D.D. Palmer, were jailed for practicing medicine without a license.[1] For most of its existence, chiropractic has battled with mainstream medicine, sustained by antiscientific and pseudoscientific ideas such as subluxation.[9] A 2008 critical evaluation found that research has not demonstrated that spinal manipulation, the main treatment method employed by chiropractors, is effective for any medical condition, with the possible exception of treatment for back pain.[1] Chiropractic has been controversial, though to a lesser extent than in past years.[76]



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